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The desperation of actors to work with meaty emotional material and the filmmaker’s extensive contacts no doubt explain the presence of an excellent cast in actress Ally Walker’s (The Profiler, Longmire) directorial debut. Unfortunately, Sex, Death and Bowling is as ungainly and overstuffed as its title, filled with enough dysfunctional family drama and quirky indie comedy tropes to fuel an entire film festival. Its star, Adrian Grenier, probably wishes he was instead reprising his role as Aquaman in the fictional movie that figured so prominently in Entourage.
In this effort scripted as well as directed by Walker, Grenier plays Sean, a fashion designer who’s returned to his small hometown after many years because his older brother Rick (Bailey Chase) is dying of cancer. Sean, apparently so famous that he’s been featured on the cover of GQ, is gay, but that doesn’t stop every female character from practically drooling while telling him how gorgeous he is.
His return only serves to once again bring to the fore his contentious relationship with his emotionally repressed father (Daniel Hugh Kelly), who has never accepted Sean’s sexuality and who also can barely bring himself to spend time with the fading Rick.
But the visit does provide the opportunity for Sean to bond with his precocious 11-year-old nephew Eli (Joshua Rush, terrific), who is on a spiritual quest for answers regarding death and the afterlife as a response to his father’s illness.
Other characters figuring in the proceedings include Rick’s wife (Selma Blair), in denial over her husband’s condition; his caregiver Ana (Drea de Matteo), who suffers the brunt of her anger; and Kim, an old friend of Sean’s with whom he has a reunion so brief and inconsequential it feels like it was inspired by actress Mary Lynn Rajskub’s visit to the film location.
In case you were wondering, the title refers to a bowling tournament in which Eli was going to compete with his father. It doesn’t take a seer to predict that Sean will eventually step in to fill his brother’s shoes, healing some familial rifts along the way.
The film is clearly well meaning and deeply felt, but the proceedings are so tonally inconsistent and awkward that it fails to achieve the desired impact. And the frequent flashbacks spotlighting past interpersonal conflicts and the cutesy animation illustrating Eli’s religious journey are less illuminating than mannered. Despite the strong efforts of its impressive cast, Sex, Death and Bowling is a split at best.
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Selma Blair, Bailey Chase, Melora Walters, Drea de Matteo, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Joshua Rush
Director/screenwriter: Ally Walker
Producers: Ally Walker, Larry Rattner, Sig De Miguel, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter
Executive producers: Joan Bateman, Scott Cowan, Pat Flicker Addiss, Ally Walker
Director of photography: Frederic Fasano
Production designer: Alan E. Muraoka
Editors: Colleen Halsey, Grant Myers, Ruben Sebban
Costume designer: Kristen Anacker
Composers: Vidjay Beerepoot, Mark Fontana
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent
Rated R, 96 min.
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