'How to Tell You're a Douchebag': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A soul-searching romance that never catches fire.

If you're asking the question, you probably are.

A womanizing blogger gets put in his place in How to Tell You're a Douchebag, Tahir Jetter's feature debut. Not funny enough to call a rom-com, though it borrows many of that genre's tropes, the movie plays like a technically proficient, very expensive substitute for going into therapy after a painful breakup. Heartfelt but lacking some key ingredients, the pic has limited commercial potential; in any event, it's certainly much too conventional for Sundance's NEXT section, meant to showcase titles with an "innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling."

Charles Brice plays Ray Livingston, a freelance writer trying to attract attention with a blog, Occasionally Dating Black Women, whose self-pitying tone doesn't jibe with the cavalier way he treats the women he takes to bed. He's a douchebag, all right, no matter how much he claims to be looking for love and blames his emotional unavailability on New York City.

Trying to prove his point, he accosts a stranger (DeWanda Wise's Rochelle) to ask why black women treat black men so badly. She reads him the riot act, shames him on Twitter and, as happens in movies 10 million times more than in real life, a potential romance buds. But after an epic and satisfying first date, Rochelle accidentally meets one of Ray's friends-with-benefits and, learning he's as big a cad as she initially thought, dumps him.

The problem at this juncture is this: We have no reason to care about Ray's wounded pride. Nothing in the script has given us a reason to think there's more to him than we see, and Brice doesn't project enough personality here to make up for the screenplay's failings. We'd much rather spend time with Jake (William Jackson Harper), the wry best-friend character who routinely takes the air out of his puffed-up pal ("You ever think you might hate women, Ray?") and who gets most of the film's intermittent laughs.

Wounded by Rochelle's rejection, Ray flails about for solutions, but the pursuit isn't as persuasively soul-searching as a just-right score by Emile Mosseri and Alex Schiff suggests. We watch him write blog posts that vent his frustrations, then come back and write blog posts to apologize for thoughtless venting. Somewhere in there, he probably wrote a movie, too.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT sidebar)
Production company: Pryor Hill

Cast: Charles Brice, DeWanda Wise, William Jackson Harper, Alexander Mulzac, Jenna Wiliams
Director-screenwriter: Tahir Jetter
Producers: Tahir Jetter, Marttise Hill, Julius Pryor IV
Executive producers: Cathy Peoples, Melanie Greenberg, Mark Greenberg, Wise-Miller Productions, Charles Brice
Director of photography: Cory Fraiman-Lott
Production designer: Gabriella Moses
Costume designer: Derica Washington
Editor: Jared Rosenthal
Composers: Emile Mosseri, Alex Schiff
Sales: Andrew Herwitz, The Film Sales Company

Not rated, 79 minutes