Monday, October 15, 2012

Three's Company: "Splendor" (1999)

Gregg Araki, he of the mostly unwatchable "The Doom Generation" and "Nowhere," comes up with an almost mainstream romantic comedy.

Veronica (Kathleen Robertson) is a starving actress in L.A. who hangs out with her funky artist galpal Mike (Kelly Macdonald, who eerily resembles my high school prom date). One Halloween night, Veronica goes to a club and meets sensitive writer Abel (Johnathon Schaech) and the two connect. She then sees the band's drummer, Zed (Matt Keeslar), and those two really connect right on the floor of the restroom. Veronica soon begins dating both men. Abel and Zed (A and Z, get it?) find out about each other, and agree to the arrangement until Zed moves in after getting kicked out my his roommates. Abel decides to move in too, but the guys quickly show they are less than mature, especially in a relationship. By chance, Veronica gets a role in a television movie directed by the earnest Ernest (Eric Mabius). Veronica ends up pregnant, moves out of the trio's apartment, and breaks up with Abel and Zed. Then Ernest proposes marriage...

While championed as an homage to the screwball comedies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I don't remember Fred Astaire wooing Ginger Rogers to the music of Fatboy Slim or New Order. Araki takes the screwball set-up and completely claims it as his own. Modern touches abound, such as the raunchy sex and drug use, and Araki's script handles them better than his other efforts. My biggest complaint is with Araki's direction. For the love of David Lean, get out of the actors' faces! Every shot seems to be a closeup, I got seasick and a little creeped out being this close to the characters. Plus, I have thirty two inch television which gives the cute Kathleen Robertson a BIG GIANT HEAD!

The cast is really likable, there are no villains here. You really wish everyone the best, even Ernest, who comes off as the nicest rebound boyfriend ever. Robertson is very good, even thought underneath all her good scenes, you quickly realize Veronica is a big flake. Keeslar is funny as Zed without going overboard on the dumb guy act. Schaech is also good at Abel, without going overboard on the brooding artist act. Macdonald does a nice turn as Mike, without going overboard on the best friend role. Everyone plays their parts well, never going overboard, so Araki takes up the slack, guaranteeing this is not the film to show Grandma when she reminisces about William Powell or Myrna Loy.

"Splendor" is funny in some spots, but slow in others. The laughs are hit and miss, and Araki's direction is a constant nuisance throughout. While I did not hate it, I found it to be really average. It is always interesting to watch an Araki film. While they can be arresting, I have yet to find a really good one. (* * *) out of five stars.