What's Up, Scarlet?

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Open City Entertainment

At the center of the romantic comedy "What's Up, Scarlet?" is a smartly decorated Los Angeles bungalow, its walls colored in an exuberant palette that would make Almodovar swoon. But the story is paint-chip-thin in this screwball take on lesbian love. Although it builds an easy case for how the acid-tongued title character falls for an open-hearted stranger, their relationship and its elemental contrivances are not interesting enough to generate must-see attention after it opens Friday in Los Angeles.

Susan Priver -- who wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay with director Anthony Caldarella -- has a tough but smoldering quality as Scarlet Zabrinski, an adamantly single creature of habit. She lives in a pretty house and dotes on her four dogs, who, after they've done their cute tricks and facilitated a few plot points, are absent from most of the movie. The obvious paradox is that she runs a successful matchmaking business but, after a long string of disastrous relationships with men, she has no interest in finding a mate of her own. She also must resist the intrusive matchmaking maneuvers of Sally Kirkland as her hypercritical, larger-than-life (what else?) mother.

Into the romance void crashes a Latina redhead, Sabrina (Musetta Vander), as scattered as Scarlet is methodical. In their meet-cute, aspiring actress Sabrina, rushing to an audition, rear-ends Scarlet, and one thing leads, ever so slowly, to another. Learning that Sabrina has been living in her car, Scarlet uncharacteristically invites her to stay at her place for a day or two. The earthy Venezuelan, whose accent wanders disconcertingly, promptly goes on a cleaning binge and cooks up a culinary storm. Flummoxed, Scarlet alternately freaks out and extends the deadline for her to leave. By the time the merlot is flowing nightly, the picture of domestic bliss is obvious to everyone but Scarlet.

The film is in some ways refreshingly matter-of-fact, but it also relies increasingly on over-the-top shenanigans, getting-to-know-you montage sequences and melodramatic plot twists. The scenes that feel most alive are those featuring Jere Burns as Scarlet's unemployed lawyer brother, whose pathetic manipulations and filial rage pack a visceral, comedic punch.
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