'Audrey': Film Review

Manchego Pictures
Elevating anxiety issues to an almost fetishistic level can compromise creativity. 

Sybil Darrow stars in Dean Pollack's sophomore feature.

More a comedy about romance than something resembling a romantic comedy, Audrey reveals itself to be so severely compromised even before the first third has played out that few viewers are likely to stick around for the denouement. After exhausting whatever favors and goodwill can be extracted in theatrical release from the cast and crew's extended network, the film may eventually find its most fervent followers on late-night cable and Internet platforms.

Audrey Lewis (Sybil Darrow), who claims to be 29 as she approaches 34, is a single L.A. professional gal with a career in parking-structure design and a collection of neuroses so inexhaustible that she could potentially earn a better living volunteering for psychological research, not to mention the lucrative potential of anxiety-drug testing trials. Aside from trying to promote herself to her cold, judgmental employer, Stan (Robert Curtis Brown), her chief preoccupation seems to be dating with the apparent intent to wed, even after a disastrous recent breakup with manipulative, chauvinistic ex Pete (Ed Quinn).

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Gene (Jonathan Chase), her latest prospect and a prospering young constitutional attorney, appears to be handsome, sweet and caring — in other words, the opposite of Pete. Now poised for what she considers their definitive third date, Audrey has put all her chips on a brunch meeting at a fancy French bistro during which she'll try to ascertain Gene's true intentions. Arriving early at the restaurant, she resolves to await Gene's arrival as calmly as possible, but once a quarter-hour passes without him appearing, her conviction begins to waver.

At the same time, the snotty French staff is putting her on edge, and a perusal of the calorie-laden Continental menu nearly sends her into a tailspin. As she considers bolting for the exit to avoid the public humiliation of getting stood up if Gene doesn't show, she's forced to back down by the arrival of her boss, who's hosting a VIP client for lunch. Stan barely gives Audrey a second glance, even as she obsequiously fawns over the client, leaving a dubious first impression.

Then — coincidentally, of course — Pete arrives with his beautiful new blonde girlfriend, Tess (Helena Mattsson), pretty much confining all her professional and relationship anxiety issues to a single room. The situation is exacerbated by interruptions from an insistently precocious little girl and a creepy patron offering to buy her expensive fruity cocktails.

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Frequent flashbacks to her prior romantic failures and previous encounters with Gene, which frankly don't suggest much in terms of his boyfriend potential, as well as fantasy sequences featuring exchanges with various characters in the restaurant who pose threats to her fragile self-image come across as forced and awkward. And then the film's final twist turns out to be weak in the extreme, despite the renewed chance for a happy ending.

Expanding on a 2003 collaboration for their short film Piece a' Cake, Darrow and Pollack attempt to sketch out an archetypal contemporary everywoman. Aside from the ponderously contrived narrative, however, which mines a long list of supposedly relatable female insecurities and neuroses, much of the characterization relies on one-dimensional stereotyping, perhaps with the intention of representing Audrey as somehow exceptional, although her frequent whimsicality shouldn't be confused with the memorable types of characters identified with actresses named Hepburn or Tatou.

In a questionable stab at originality, the filmmakers offer the conceit that the afternoon's events are unfolding over an hour of real time as the titular character awaits her big date, providing the audience access to Audrey's private thoughts for 60 minutes doesn't turn out to be all that interesting. Minor crises involving the perceived drawbacks of her age, appearance and lack of confidence are routine comedic staples and only serve to highlight Audrey's oblivious self-absorption. That Darrow manages to fairly effortlessly embody these conflicting issues makes the performance that much more effective, but not any more attractive.

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As her chief antagonists, Quinn as the superior and unfeeling ex-boyfriend and Brown as her manipulative boss both embody characteristics specific to the types of men who are clearly all wrong for Audrey. Ed Asner, as her close friend and the genius who sets her up with Gene, ends up squandered in a few brief scenes that hint at a more substantial role pointlessly curtailed.

Pollack faces few challenges covering activities in the restaurant dining room, which take up the bulk of the film's running time, while cinematographer Gigi Malavasi and production designer Mona Nahm work all the angles to provide a degree of visual variety to the white-tablecloth setting.

Opens: July 11 (Manchego Pictures)

Production company: Manchego Pictures

Cast: Sybil Darrow, Ed Quinn, Jonathan Chase, Ed Asner, Helena Mattsson, Robert Curtis Brown, Ethan Phillips, Charles Shaughnessy

Director: Dean Pollack

Screenwriters: Dean Pollack, Sybil Darrow

Producers: Sybil Darrow, Dean Pollack, Richard Bever, Stephen Israel

Executive producers: Ruth Vitale, Effie Brown, Gill Holland, Brian Altounian, Dean Janes, Gina La Piana

Director of photography:Gigi Malavasi

Production designer: Mona Nahm

Costume designer: Bonnie Stauch

Editor: Phillip J. Bartell

Music: Peter Golub

Rated PG, 81 minutes

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