'In Reality': Film Review

Courtesy of Lumanova Pictures
An idiosyncratic look at how romantic fairy tales threaten real-world happiness.

Writer-director Ann Lupo plays herself in an autobiographical comedy about romantic fantasies.

An aggressively whimsical look at the human misery caused by the romantic fantasies flooding our culture, Ann Lupo's In Reality skewers the writer/director/star's real-life behavior in ways that, however goofy, will resonate with many romantics in the audience. Made for peanuts, the project began life as a short that morphed into a digital series, then a feature; its highly subjective, style-hopping approach masks those episodic origins, making for a cohesive picture that, though certainly not for everyone, feels like an honest personal statement.

Lupo plays herself, a (then) 23-year-old aspiring filmmaker about to spend a year carrying a torch for a guy who just wants to be friends. Life has primed her to see true love around every corner; hearing about her boss's made-for-social-media wedding proposal just makes the absence of a significant other harder to take. What's so unappealing about Ann that nobody wants to sweep her off her feet? In a very broadly drawn recurring fantasy, she dons the garb of a smarmy game-show host and explains why this contestant's a loser: Unwanted hair and an undainty nose come up first; not until the movie's end does Ann's brain allow this alter ego to get closer to the problem.

When an aunt arranges a blind date, life seems to finally be delivering what Ann expects: Bespectacled, tousle-haired John (Miles G. Jackson) shares all her interests and opinions; they're making "we're the same person" jokes before the night is through, and soon flirtation leads to bed. As a snort-worthy sex scene uses flowers as metaphors for Ann's erogenous zones, it's hard to be certain whether the filmmaker is mocking her overidealization of intimacy or indulging it.

Finally, Ann believes she has a relationship to mirror that of her best friend Lallie (Kimiko Glenn). Lallie's the kind of woman who might unironically start a sentence with the words, "I was thinking that since it's the last year of my mid-twenties...," and Ann's the kind of friend who wouldn't dream of mocking that. The two have the kind of cutesy-supportive friendship that can be hard to depict on film without the sweetness inducing a toothache. But in her defense, Lallie also nudges Ann toward acknowledging the truth: John made all the first romantic moves, but he quickly decided he didn't want to be her boyfriend, and a year later, he's not changing his mind.

As the movie depicts her, Ann is more than a bit of a dork, who loves playing dress-up and affecting antiquated mannerisms. The film's many cutaways to fantasy scenes are never as funny or affecting as they seem intended to be, but they do register as a true window into the filmmaker's personality, one that is balanced by a more prosaic but welcome element: recurring scenes in which a no-nonsense Lupo sits in front of a black backdrop, being interviewed by an unseen man about what all this experience has taught her. Accepting that romantic movies and novels bear little resemblance to the lives most of us will actually lead can be tough. But investing three years or so turning that understanding into a movie might just be enough to drive the lesson home.

Production companies: Lumanova Pictures, Lunamax Films, Movie Time Picture Company
Distributor: Giant Pictures
Cast: Ann Lupo, Miles G. Jackson, Kimiko Glenn, Olivia Washington, Esteban Pedraza, Lauren E. Banks, John Racioppo, Robert James Gardner, Jill Eikenberry
Director-screenwriter: Ann Lupo
Producers: Ann Lupo, Holly Meehl
Executive producers: Freida Orange, Winnie Kemp
Director of photography: Nadine Martinez
Editors: Ann Lupo, S. Olden, Erin Sullivan
Composer: James Lavino

92 minutes