'Sensitivity Training': LAFF Review

Courtesy of Film Independent
Forced dialogue and uneven pacing plague this character-driven comedy.

Anna Lise Phillips plays an abrasive microbiologist requiring behavior modification from perky Jill Alexander.

Not to be confused with Anger Management, the broadly drawn Sensitivity Training is a plodding workplace comedy that fails to capitalize on a promising premise.

Bowing at the LA Film Festival, this first feature by writer-director Melissa Finell concerns the attempted rehabilitation of Dr. Serena Wolfe (Anna Lise Phillips), a seriously misanthropic microbiologist who’s the walking antidote for perky.

Her hard-working staff manages to put up with all her wry verbal abuse, but after she crosses a line with a colleague, she can’t get the research grant she needs unless she first receives attitude adjustment from a sensitivity coach.

Jumping at the chance of doing something other than sexual harassment training, the impossibly sunny Caroline (Jill Alexander) takes up the challenge and, despite Serena’s abrasive protestations, telltale cracks eventually begin to appear in all that defensive armor.

It’s clear to see why Finell’s script received a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, but while the crisply acerbic dialogue might pop on the page, up on the screen that embarrassment of biting one-liners proceeds to take a numbingly artificial toll where credible, relatable characters are concerned.

Despite the keenly attuned comedic instincts of the leads — Alexander is sort of like the Glinda to Phillips’ Elphaba — they ultimately can’t compete with rapid-fire lines that cry out for more breathing room, as does a shooting style that favors tight close-ups and sitcom-y reaction shots.

Conversely, the likable cast — which also includes Quinn Marcus as Phillips' put-upon assistant and Amy Madigan and Charles Haid as her self-absorbed parents — is equally unable to compensate for the seriously flagging energy level that ensues when single Serena finds herself developing feelings for Caroline, who has a partner and a child.

Both professionally and personally speaking, Dr. Wolfe might eventually discover the cause of that stubborn antibiotic resistance, but by that point Sensitivity Training also proves considerably less infectious.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival (LA Muse)
Production company: Good Bacteria

Cast: Anna Lise Phillips, Jill Alexander, Quinn Marcus, Amy Madigan, Charles Haid
Director-screenwriter: Melissa Finell
Producers: Megha Kohli
Executive producer: Charles Haid
Director of photography: Paul Cannon
Production designer: Richard H. Perry
Costume designer: Brianna Quick
Editor: David Egan
Composer: Paul Chihara
Casting: Kerrie Mailey
Sales: Good Bacteria

Not rated, 85 minutes

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