'Hard Sell': Film Review

Hard Sell Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

Hard Sell Still - Publicity - H 2016

'Risky Business' without the risk.

A financially strapped teenager uses a gorgeous ex-stripper to help him make money at his elite prep school.

Insanely hot women and dorky teenage boys: the combination has been a cinematic staple for eons, especially in the 1980s with its endless procession of teen sexploitation flicks. Sean Nalaboff's directorial debut deals with similar themes, and to its credit does so in a far more serious manner. Unfortunately, Hard Sell ultimately lacks the depth to which it seemingly aspires, and would probably have been more fun if it had hewed more closely to its familiar, shlocky genre.

The story is set on the Gold Coast of Long Island, where Hardy (Skyler Gisondo) is a senior at an elite prep school that he and his mentally ill, housebound mother, Lorna (Kristin Chenoweth) can't afford. Their financial problems become even more acute when their dog, to whom Lorna is pathologically attached, falls ill and needs an expensive operation.

Hardy thinks he's found an answer to his problems when he meets gorgeous runaway, ex-stripper Bo (Katrina Bowden), at the homeless shelter where he volunteers. He brings her home to meet his mother, who's delighted that her boy has snagged a sexy girlfriend, confiding to Bo that she thought her son was "a little light in the loafers."

Hardy and Bo's relationship, while not romantic, proves beneficial for both. He brings her to his school and introduces her to his geeky male classmates, who happily pay for the privilege of seeing her bare breasts. And she's soon performing another service as well, providing down-to-earth advice about life and love to the teenagers who've had little experience with either, for a fee, of course. Meanwhile, a man claiming to be Bo's uncle (Kevin Kilner) is making inquiries about her whereabouts, while Hardy's burgeoning business falls under the scrutiny of the disapproving school administrators.

It's easy to imagine the story being told as broad, lascivious comedy, but writer/director Nalaboff aims higher, depicting his characters' emotional struggles in an understated fashion. Unfortunately, their problems, including Hardy's infatuation with a standoffish classmate (Hannah Marks), are not terribly interesting, and the broad plot contrivances don't sit well in the otherwise realistic context.

Gisondo is appealing as the teen struggling to keep things together at home; Bowden, best known for her eye candy receptionist role in 30 Rock, is given more to do here, and does it effectively (although her physical assets are once again exploited); and Chenoweth is nicely restrained as the troubled mom. But despite their efforts, Hard Sell unfortunately lives up to its title all too well.

Production: Yellow Cote Productions

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Skyler Gisondo, Hannah Marks, Kristin Chenoweth

Director/screenwriter: Sean Nalaboff

Producers: Jimmy Seargeant, Jared Greenman, Sean Nalaboff

Director of photography: Daniel Vecchione

Production designer: Rocio Gimenez

Editor: Matthew Steinhart

Costume designer: Valerie Klarich

Composers: Clyde Lawrence, Cody Fitzgerald

Casting: Jordan Bass, Lauren Bass

Not rated, 96 minutes