Teddy Bears: Film Review

"Teddy Bears"
A strong ensemble is essential to a tale of a friendship in crisis.

Thomas Beatty (son of Ned) and wife Rebecca Fishman make their directorial debut together.

SEATTLE — More than a few recent indies -- Humpday, The Freebie and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, for instance -- have observed the effects of an unusual sexual proposition on seemingly strong bonds of love and friendship. Managing to tread similar ground without seeming like a trend-rider, Teddy Bears plays its "let's have an orgy" notion not for laughs but as an existential crisis for three couples whose friendship may not survive the question itself, much less the act. Husband and wife Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman gathered a strong ensemble for their first outing as directors, with familiar names adding commercial appeal to what the helmers intriguingly describe as a very personal film.

David Krumholtz is central to the story as Andrew, who in the wake of his mother's death has invited his closest friends for a weeklong vacation in the California desert. Once there, he unveils a plan his girlfriend Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) has been hoping he'd abandon: Believing that only a "steroid injection" of love can heal his pain, he asks to have sex with all three women in the group at once.

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There's something wise about the script's (and Krumholtz's) decision not to woo viewers too strongly on this premise -- not to work hard proving how deeply Andrew believes in his stupid idea. There's a credible opacity to the actor's presentation: "I know this sounds bizarre to you," his attitude says, "but it's what I need, and I believe it's reasonable to ask my friends for this help."

That's not to say the film ever fully convinces us that this is happening. But our suspension of disbelief is helped greatly by the responses of Andrew's friends, who are offended and somewhat angered, but mostly concerned that he's going off the deep end. Their unease triggers or exacerbates other relationship questions: Is young Zoe (Ahna O'Reilly) ready to marry Dave (Zachary Knighton), especially after he refuses to just pack up and leave this uncomfortable scene? Can Owen (Jason Ritter) manage not to use the crisis as an excuse to cheat on Emily (Gillian Jacobs) with Hannah?

Much less a sex comedy than an opportunity to watch group dynamics in flux against some gorgeous Twentynine Palms, Calif., vistas, the film finds time for an oddly poignant subplot involving a nearby eccentric (Ned Beatty, Thomas's father) and his dog. The script smartly weaves these two and another local character into questions, serious but not sensationalized, about Andrew's mental health. Though their resolution is a little too neat to be believed, the filmmakers' way with their cast makes this debut a promising one.

Production company: Ace of the Service

Cast: Gillian Jacobs, Zachary Knighton, David Krumholtz, Melanie Lynskey, Ahna O'Reilly, Jason Ritter, Dale Dickey, French Stewart, Ned Beatty

Directors: Thomas Beatty, Rebecca Fishman

Screenwriter: Thomas Beatty

Producers: Jennifer Westin, Thomas Beatty

Executive producer: Karina Miller

Director of photography: Aaron Kovalchik

Production designer: Tom McMillan

Music: Julian Wass

Costume designer: Tracey Moulton

Editor: Eric Potter

No rating, 90 minutes