‘All Relative’: Film Review

Courtesy of Shoot First Entertainment
When meeting the parents means having to say you’re sorry

Connie Nielsen, Jonathan Sadowski and Sara Paxton co-star in J.C. Khoury’s awkward take on romantic comedy

Writer-director J.C. Khoury’s second feature is a romantic dramedy featuring a conventionally appealing cast that’s squandered on a dissatisfingly derivative premise. Too polished to generate indie appeal but too underpowered to gain mainstream acceptance, All Relative won’t make for a very welcome holiday entertainment option, except perhaps where it turns up on smaller screens in digital formats.

Barely rebounding two years since splitting with his former fiancee after she cheated on him, 30ish New Yorker Harry (Jonathan Sadowski) can’t seem to even get a date on his own. He resolutely resists relationship advice from his randy best bud, until Jared (Al Thompson) publicly embarrasses him into chatting up pretty Grace (Sara Paxton) while they’re all hanging out at a bowling alley. Her determination to relegate him to the friend-zone while she’s dating another guy sends Harry into another tailspin, from which he’s extricated by Maren (Connie Nielsen) while nursing his injured ego at a late-night bar following a chaste hug goodnight from Grace.

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A confident, attractive somewhat older woman in her 40s, Maren turns out to be anything but hesitant, eagerly bedding Harry in her hotel room after disclosing that she’s a mom of three, although she’s vague about her marital status. Their agreement to keep the relationship casual works fine until Grace resurfaces and Harry decides that she’s a higher priority, which Maren takes as a signal to angrily cut him off. A month later, Harry and Grace are happily coupled and heading out to the suburbs to meet her parents for a casual weekend lunch.

Once they arrive, Maren is revealed to be Grace’s not-so-single mother, with a husband, younger daughter and luxurious home to care for. Before you can say “Mrs. Robinson,” the relaxed lunch plan devolves into bitter bickering between Harry and Maren, as they argue in loud whispers during brief asides over his relationship with Grace while attempting to conceal their earlier affair. Things get even more awkward when Maren’s husband Phil (David Aaron Baker) invites Harry to spend the night and play a round of golf with him in the morning, trapping the unfortunate suitor at their house as he’s alternately pressured by mother and daughter regarding his romantic intentions.

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Khoury, working from his own script, appears so set on forcing the cast into awkward social situations that he neglects adequate character development. Other than pursuing a graduate architecture program that’s not clearly manifested by any specific skills, Harry’s background remains vague at best, as does Grace’s career in information technology. Phil’s architecture firm offers a conveniently coincidental employment-objective subplot for Harry, but neither Phil nor Maren actually has much going on beyond their foundering marriage.

Sadowski draws on extensive TV experience by harmlessly smirking his way through the movie, in between lame displays of emotional turmoil. Nielsen and Paxton, two bright, capable actresses, are reduced to stand-ins for straight male fantasy fulfillment, although they successfully ratchet up some of the script’s tenser situations. The film’s production design appears to owe its offputting aesthetic to “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine, consistently bypassing potential New York locations in favor of the burbs, which Khoury shoots with a bland absence of style.

Production company: Shoot First Entertainment

Cast: Connie Nielsen, Jonathan Sadowski, Sara Paxton, Al Thompson, David Aaron Baker

Director-writer: J.C. Khoury

Producers: J.C. Khoury, Trevor Herrick

Executive producer: Lynn Kressel

Director of photography: Andreas Von Schelle

Production designer: David Barber

Editor: J.C. Khoury

Music: Didier Lean Rachou

Casting director: Lindsay Chag

 

No rating, 85 minutes

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