The tortured love lives of Brooklyn hipsters form the center of the latest effort from prolific microbudget indie director Nathan Silver (Thirst Street, Stinking Heaven). Receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival (a familiar venue for the filmmaker), The Great Pretender represents one of Silver’s more disciplined efforts inasmuch as he was working from a fully finished script. Unfortunately, as with so many of Silver’s films, the endless self-absorption of the characters on display quickly wears thin.
The convoluted storyline involves Mona (Maelle Poesy), a French playwright/director who has come to New York to stage a new drama inspired by her recent failed relationship with Nick (Linas Phillips), an older street photographer, and Therese (Esther Garrel, Call Me by Your Name) and Chris (indie stalwart Keith Poulson), the young actors she casts in the roles based on herself and her former lover.
Not surprisingly, things get complicated from there. The young, naïve Therese becomes besotted with her co-star Chris, a self-described “nice guy” who happens to have a raging case of gonorrhea that he doesn’t tell her about. Chris and Mona become romantically involved as well, while Nick, who’s still in love with Mona, gets involved with her onstage counterpart. It all culminates with an onstage performance of Mona’s play in which art and real life are blurrily merged.
Jack Dunphy’s screenplay is composed of several chapters related from the various characters’ perspectives and narration, with past and present situations blending together in repetitive and sometimes confusing fashion. The pungent dialogue at least frequently proves painfully realistic, such as when Nick, asked by Mona to meet the actress who will be portraying her in the play, responds by offering a deal. “I’ll meet her if you have sex with me one last time,” he says in all seriousness. One of the episodic highlights involves a series of Theresa’s phone calls to her mother in France in which she describes the complications of her love life in amusingly graphic detail.
The convoluted storytelling and constant self-reflexivity ultimately come to feel more annoying than enlightening. The claustrophobic aspects of the proceedings are further amplified by the extensive use of close-ups, as well as camera filters that result in an off-putting, gauzy visual quality. That the film was originally conceived as a web series becomes apparent from the disjointed narrative in which large plot chunks seem to have been left out, making one wonder if they would have helped or simply just added to the narrative muddle.
The Great Pretender feels all too emblematic of its milieu of young artistic people who have an inflated sense of their place in the universe. The film certainly conveys that sort of particularly urban brand of self-importance realistically, with the lead performers fully inhabiting their increasingly tiresome characters. But much like the sort of pretentious Off-Off Broadway play that features so prominently in its storyline, the pic feels much, much longer than it is.
Production companies: BRIC TV, Factory 25 Productions
Cast: Esther Garrel, Keith Poulson, Maelle Poesy, Linas Phillips
Director: Nathan Silver
Screenwriter-editor: Jack Dunphy
Producers: Nathan Silver, Jack Dunphy, Matt Grady, Danelle Eliav, Jere B. Ford, Pierce Varous
Executive producers: Aziz Isham, Kuye Youngblood, Diane Lanyi
Director of photography: Sean Price Williams
Production designer: Grace Sloan
Composer: Seth Kapla
Costume designer: Jocelyn Pierce
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)