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As in many a romantic comedy, the central couple in BFFs are the last to recognize that they just might be meant for each other. The twist — and it’s a fresh one — is that they’re straight women and longtime friends; they stumble upon the possibility of something deeper while pretending to be an item at a “healing retreat for couples” — or maybe they’ve just drunk the relationship Kool-Aid. Screenwriter-producers Tara Karsian and Andrea Grano, who also star as the should-they-or-shouldn’t-they duo, get a lot right in their gentle spoof of New Age California-speak, which had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara festival.
One of the things the writer-producers nab is the pervasiveness of passive-aggressive “concern” in contemporary conversation. In the opening scene, fortysomething Kat (Karsian) is the picture of misery at her birthday dinner, where her mother (comedy vet Pat Carroll) and an assortment of frenemies offer faux sympathy over her recently dashed engagement to be married, an event they consider the latest in a lifetime of relationship failures. Mom ups the ante with the gift of a weekend of couples counseling for Kat and her ex. A few tequilas later, Kat’s best friend, Samantha (Grano), convinces her that they should pose as a couple in order to enjoy the picturesque retreat’s pool and have a laugh or two.
The other five couples at the Closer to Closeness getaway, among them the “living example” retreat facilitators (Sigrid Thornton and Patrick O’Connor) and a young gay couple (Sean Maher, Russell Sams), are more sketched in than fully fleshed out. The most vividly realized supporting character is Richard Moll’s caricature of a self-realization enthusiast, a retirement-age man who seemingly has adopted New Age workshopping as a second career.
When, amid the group sharing, trust exercises and discussions of intimacy issues, the imposters start to feel something for each other, Grano and Karsian play the quandary just right, avoiding, as they do throughout the film, the forced, sitcommy delivery of many comedies.
Intriguing, if sometimes repetitive and thin, the low-budget production flirts with feel-good formula but wisely remains open-ended. Although director Andrew Putschoegl occasionally overindulges some of the story’s sincere therapeutic moments, for the most part he keeps things moving in the sunny, rustic-posh mountainside setting, maintaining a light tension between irony and earnestness.
In their observant writing and appealing performances, Karsian and Grano tap into something believable. Their characters bicker, joke and finish each other’s thoughts like any well-tuned partnership, trading insights, barbs and pointed looks — and indulging in a pitch-perfect game of “Who Would You Rather?” — with the natural rhythms of people who are smart, funny and in sync.
Venue: Santa Barbara Film Festival
Production: Sneaky Pete Prods.
Cast: Tara Karsian, Andrea Grano, Sigrid Thornton, Patrick O’Connor, Jenny O’Hara, Richard Moll, Sean Maher, Russell Sams, Larisa Oleynik, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Dan Gauthier, Molly Hagan , Eric Lively, Pat Carroll
Director: Andrew Putschoegl
Screenwriters: Andrea Grano, Tara Karsian
Producers: Andrea Grano, Tara Karsian, Andrew Putschoegl
Director of photography: Andrew Huebscher
Production designer: Vincent Albo
Music: Paul Buckley
Costume designer: Marissa Borsetto
Editor: Corey Ziemniak
PG-13; 90 min.
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