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Most effective as a feature-length advertisement for the Los Angeles mass-transportation system, the indie rom-com Dorfman in Love features a winning performance by Sara Rue as its titular heroine but otherwise has little to recommend it. Playing a wallflower who blossoms when she finally meets the right guy, the actress has charm to spare.
She plays Deb Dorfman, a Jewish accountant slaving away in her brother Daniel’s (Jonathan Chase) business who spends most of her free time caring for her elderly widowed father Burt (Elliott Gould), with whom she lives in the San Fernando Valley. Deb is desperately in love with Jay (Johann Urb), a ruggedly handsome war correspondent. So she eagerly takes him up on his request to cat-sit at his new downtown loft apartment when he’s sent on assignment to the Middle East.
While coping with the strange new world that is downtown Los Angeles, she strikes up a friendship with her dashing artist neighbor Cookie (Haaz Sleiman), who takes her under his wing and both wakes her to the delights of her new neighborhood and sparks a life-changing physical makeover.
Will the brother be able to save his relationship with his fiance (Keri Lynn Pratt) after his adulterous affair? Will Jay finally realize that Deb is the woman for him after he returns? Will Deb find love with Cookie? Will Burt get over his grief over his late wife and embrace life again? Such are the not-so-burning questions addressed in the film, the sitcom feel of which is explained by screenwriter Wendy Kout’s extensive television credits (Mork and Mindy, Anything But Love).
Los Angelinos will certainly appreciate the endless digs at the Valley and the luminous treatment afforded the downtown area of the city, albeit with some pointed jokes involving its seedier environs. But the formulaic characterizations and plotting — ugly duckling Deb becomes a swan thanks to a flattering new hairstyle and less baggy clothing — bog the film down, as do such stereotypical characters as Gould’s endlessly kvetching, homophobic dad.
Rue’s deadpan comic flair does manage to bring some grace notes to the mostly leaden proceedings, and Sleiman (so superb in The Visitor) is equally appealing. But they, and the audience, deserve better.
Opens March 22 (Brainstorm Media)
Cast: Sara Rue, Elliott Gould, Haaz Sleiman, Johann Urb, Jonathan Chase, Keri Lynn Pratt, Sophie Monk, Hayley Marie Norman
Director: Bradley Leong
Screenwriter: Wendy Kout
Producer: Leonard Hill
Executive producer: Philip Waley
Director of photography: Rachel Morrison
Editor: Daniel Cahn
Costume designer: Amy Stofsky
Composer: David Reynolds
Not rated, 91 min.
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