Petunia: Film Review
Ash Christian's dysfunctional family dramedy features a plethora of neurotic, troubled characters.
Dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen in current indie cinema, but the one in Petunia out-neurotics them all. This feature, directed and co-scripted by Ash Christian (Fat Girls, Mangus!), features a top-notch cast, a few beautifully observed moments and some amusingly bitchy dialogue. But its rambling, episodic structure and gallery of troubled characters will ultimately prove too off-putting to attract theatrical audiences. The presence of such familiar faces as Christine Lahti, Thora Birch, Brittany Snow, Michael Urie and Eddie Kaye Thomas should help it find traction on VOD and home video.
The Petunia family’s members include parents Felicia (Lahti) and Percy (David Rasche), psychoanalysts whose marriage has withered due to his impotency and subsequent lack of physical affection. Their three sons aren’t doing much better. Charlie (Tobias Segal) is gay but attempting a life of celibacy; Adrian (Jimmy Heck) is a sex addict who collects paintings of vaginas; and Michael (Thomas) has just gotten married to Vivian (Birch), who’s also been fooling around with Adrian. Discovering shortly after the nuptials that she’s pregnant, she’s unsure of the father’s identity.
When Charlie meets Vivian’s charming cousin George (Urie), he impulsively abandons his life of chastity and embarks on an affair, only to soon find out that his new lover is actually married to Robin (Snow), whose unhappiness manifests itself in obsessive exercise and a food disorder.
The filmmaker is not always successful in juggling his multiple character strands, and has trouble maintaining a consistent tone, as well. But he's successful when it comes to certain scenes, such as Felicia’s hilarious attempt to fit in at an Ecstasy-fueled nightclub or her poignant attempts to reconnect with her emotionally distant spouse.
While some of the film’s plot elements beggar disbelief -- the despondent Michael throws himself out of a window, but only a second-story one, and just for attention, and the masochistic Robin seemingly indulges her husband’s proclivity for gay extra-marital affairs -- the frequently witty, incisive dialogue provides some compensation.
And the ensemble is well up to the task of delivering it, especially the older pros, Lahti and Rasche, who provide some deeply moving moments towards the film’s conclusion. But that’s not to slight the skillful performances by the younger players, and especially Segal and Snow, who bring a moving pathos to their sensitive portrayals.
Opens June 28 (Wolfe Releasing)
Production: Cranium Entertainment, Ironclad Pictures, Yale Productions, Rooted Films What the Heck Productions
Cast: Thora Birch, Tobias Segal, Christine Lahti, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Rasche, Jimmy Heck, Michael Urie, Brittany Snow
Director: Ash Christian
Screenwriters: Ash Christian, Theresa Bennett
Producers: Ash Christian, Jordan Levine, Thora Birch
Executive producers: Michael Corso, John Delaney, Roger Dowd, Branca Ferrazo, Ron Gell, Anthony Gudas, Nesim Hanson, Jimmy Heck, Scott Levenson, Michele Levy, Brian Orce, Vairon Perez, Franco Sama, Lion Shirdan, Faisal Toor
Director of photography: Austin Schmidt
Editor: Scott D. Martin
Production designer: Daniel Kersting
Costume designer: Nikia Nelson
Composer: Douglas Cuomo
Not rated, 112 min.