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SUNDANCE REVIEW: Uncle Kent

Uncle Kent
Kevin Bewersdorf

The Bottom Line

Mumblecore take on middle-aged romantic ambivalence focuses on low-key sexual frustration and the occasional exposed penis.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival, Spotlight (Sundance Selects)

Cast

Kent Osborne, Jennifer Prediger, Josephine Decker, Kevin Bewersdorf, Joe Swanberg

Director

Joe Swanberg

PARK CITY — Mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg looks ahead to middle age (but clearly doesn't look forward to it) in "Uncle Kent," a diverting character study whose mildly racy comedy should be greeted warmly by followers of the scene but isn't likely to win converts.

The title character, played by co-writer Kent Osborne, is a not-quite-likeable animator whose deficient social life is tweaked by a weekend visit from Kate, an attractive (but not single) woman he met online. Internet-based procrastination plays a big part in the bong-smoking home-office worker's life, and the movie envisions social interactions that all but require a broadband connection to get kick-started; some of its of-the-moment references, though, like the web-messaging site Chatroulette, may already be stale by the time the movie reaches audiences.

The quickly-dated tech theme is continued in Kent's visuals, where predictably crummy videography is interspersed with even uglier footage shot by Kent himself, who documents mundane moments with a Flip-style USB camcorder.

A central exchange set in a borrowed L.A. swimming pool suggests a raison d'être for Uncle Kent that reaches beyond its middling comedy of sexual frustration: Kent, having just turned 40,explains to a friend (Swanberg himself) how his reluctance to have children remains an obstacle to finding a serious relationship.

Swanberg and Osborne's script lets the theme drop, though, by zooming in on a romance that has little potential even absent the question of procreation: Kent and Kate, evidently not content with the already high level of sexual tension, arrange a Craigslist hookup with a brainy threesome-curious woman. While the encounter's climactic moments aren't shown, its awkwardness is summed up by a shot in which Kent sits, neglected, tentatively holding the foot of one of the women as she cavorts with the other.

Uncle Kent treats the weekend's romantic near-misses with an appropriate shrug, and in the end wrings more pathos out of the possibility that Kent's pet cat isn't that interested in his caresses, either. Here's hoping Kent's nieces and nephews see a happier side of their uncle before he's an old man.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Spotlight (Sundance Selects)
Cast: Kent Osborne, Jennifer Prediger, Josephine Decker, Kevin Bewersdorf, Joe Swanberg
Director-screenwriter-producer-director of photography-editor: Joe Swanberg
Screenwriter-producer: Kent Osborne
Music: Kevin Bewersdorf
No rating, 72 minutes