“I am the architect of my life,” declares Sherry, the central character of Adam Keleman’s debut feature, in her opening voiceover narration. But the structure she’s made of it proves mightily wobbly indeed. An alcoholic making a tenuous living selling cosmetics door-to-door, she sleeps with strangers she picks up in bars, lives in a motel and has left her young daughter in the custody of her sister for the last 10 years. Her desperate existence makes the title of Easy Living sadly ironic.
But as compellingly played by the charismatic Caroline Dhavernas (Mary Kills People, Hannibal), Sherry proves endlessly fascinating. Whether trying to procure a small business loan so she can open a salon with her best friend Danny (Jen Richards) or masturbating in frustration while watching an old movie after an attempted sexual liaison goes badly, she consistently behaves in an intriguingly inconsistent manner.
A character study of an endlessly flawed human being, Easy Living thankfully avoids heavy moralizing or platitudinous bromides and it even makes familiar situations, such as Sherry’s estrangement from her fed-up sister (Elizabeth Marvel) and tween daughter (Taylor Richardson) who doesn’t know what to make of her, seem fresh. And when Sherry attempts to enter into a more serious relationship with a man who turns out to be as off-kilter as she is, the results are equally unpredictable. To his credit, director/screenwriter Keleman also doesn’t bother to accentuate such plot elements as Sherry’s sister living with a woman or that Danny is portrayed by a transgender actress.
Infusing her portrayal with equal measures of steeliness, vulnerability, sexiness and sly humor, Dhavernas bares herself both physically and soulfully in a magnetic performance that anchors the film. She makes the character appealing even at her most self-destructive, or plain destructive, in a manner that makes the viewer feel almost complicit in her behavior.
Only in the final section, involving Sherry’s fateful encounter with an armed robber who takes her hostage and winds up with far more than he bargained for, does the film feel inauthentic. But even this gonzo episode, which includes a sexual encounter involving a man strapped to a dialysis machine, has a bracing audacity that has to be admired. Easy Living will probably prove too offbeat to generate more than niche appeal, but it makes one very eager to see what its talented tyro filmmaker will come up with next.
Production companies: Bay Bridge Productions, Green Ray Films
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Caroline Dhavernas, McCaleb Burnett, Elizabeth Marvel, Charlie Hofheimer, Jen Richards, C.J. Wilson, Daniel Eric Gold, Taylor Richardson, Mary Catherine Garrison
Director-screenwriter: Adam Keleman
Producers: Laura Wagner, Adam Keleman
Executive producers: Todd Remis, David Moscow, Jason Dreyer
Director of photography: James Axel West
Production designer: Dani Broom-Peltz
Editors: Christopher Radcliff, Drew DeNicola
Costume designer: Sarah Maiorino
Casting: Henry Russell Bergstein