The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On: AFI Fest Review
AFI Fest (Breakthrough)
Drew Denny, Sarah Hagan
A rambunctious young woman hits the road to scatter her father's ashes in tyro director Drew Denny's comedy-drama.
A young woman’s unexpressed grief over her recently deceased father is the barely revved motor of U.S. indie The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had with My Pants On, a road trip that never gets off the ground. Unfolding against a well-lensed backdrop of Southwestern locations, the comedy-drama from first-time filmmaker Drew Denny subs giggly high jinks and unconvincing contemplative moments for character development and engaging storytelling. The resulting hodgepodge has the feel of deeply felt personal experience being worked out without being distilled into compelling viewing.
Multihyphenate Denny, who stars in the film as well as writing, directing, producing and contributing several songs to the soundtrack, has adapted a work of performance art she created in memory of her father; like the character she plays, she cared for her dad when he was dying of pancreatic cancer. She’s a spirited, photogenic performer who misjudges her material’s cogency and appeal. A selection of AFI Fest’s Breakthrough section, the feature could rack up mileage on the fest circuit, but theatrical prospects look slim.
The two-hander follows Andy (Denny) as she drives from Southern California to Austin, with stops along the way to scatter her father’s ashes in locations of his choosing. Joining her on the mission, and seeming to take it more seriously than the sentiment-averse Andy, is her childhood friend Liv (Sarah Hagan), an actress, and Liv’s little dog.
As they pass through a curiously underpopulated Southwest, extrovert Andy mixes easily with the few locals they encounter, and pushes the more inhibited Liv to do wild and crazy things — like rehearsing for an upcoming audition by seducing an unsuspecting townie. As with most of the movie’s scenes, that incident offers no payoff, other than to emphasize the good girl/bad girl divide that’s reiterated throughout the narrative yet never truly explored.
It’s good to see young female characters who aren’t defined strictly in terms of romantic relationships, but neither are they really defined at all, except as schematically contrived opposites of each other. In the sole instance of persuasive tension, Andy, a lesbian, tests the possibility of taking their friendship to a new level.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Andy, who laughs way too hard, is headed for a confrontation with the grief she’s intent on avoiding. Little feels at stake, though, in her escapades and clashes with Liv. When they indulge in awkward role-play — more practice for that movie audition — Andy’s getup is in part a nod to Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim, a comparison that does Denny’s movie no favors. Likewise, while a couple of Super 16 B&W sequences relating to Liv’s hoped-for movie role may look good, the performers’ noir parody has no punch.
However much the story flounders on its way to an emotional climax that proves more self-congratulatory than revelatory, Will Basanta’s unfussy digital cinematography is always strong, situating the characters in the region’s honky-tonks, motels and spectacular desert vistas.
Venue: AFI Fest (Breakthrough)
Production companies: Bonnie Brae, Brain House and Tiderock Films
Cast: Drew Denny, Sarah Hagan
Writer-director: Drew Denny
Producers: Drew Denny, Jason Michael Berman, Clay Jeter
Executive producer: Steven Drypolcher
Director of photography: Will Basanta
Music: Duncan Thum
Costume designer: Emily Batson
Editor: Isaac Hagy
No MPAA rating, 96 minutes