REVIEW: Denise [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 9 minutes | Release Date: July 4th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: WIGSCO
Director(s): Lee Toland Krieger
Writer(s): Neil LaBute

“I get along with girls better …”

As evidenced by In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, no one does scathing social commentary like Neil LaBute. So, after the rather questionable decisions to helm remakes of The Wicker Man and Death at a Funeral, it’s good to see the playwright going back to what made him a filmmaker to keep tabs on over a decade ago. His script for the short film Denise—a part of the WIGS series from Jon Avnet and Rodrigo García—takes a discerning look at the Hollywood lifestyle of sexual creatures crossing paths and disposing of each other along their quest for stardom. With a couple fantastic performances, the quick little study lays bare the cruelty of human nature.

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, the film shows how the captivating dialogue of two actors can be as intellectually stimulating as one desires. A brilliant showcase of the biting chemistry between Alison Pill (Denise) and Chris Messina (Brad), Denise sends us on a path of lies created in the fabricated “I’m doing it for your benefit” kind of way we all guiltily utilize when the opportunity arises. Through a series of hyperbolic truths on behalf of our female lead, Brad’s entire existence as a man adored by the vapid, faceless hoards of talentless girls arriving from the Mid-West to become stars is ripped to shreds.

Attempting to diffuse the well-deserved verbal assault with vague remarks only hurting his cause more, a stunned silence becomes all he can muster after the barrage of words putting a mirror to his face finishes. Messina is a master at turning up the smarmy charm when believing he has a chance at picking up a new, fresh-faced woman as well as letting it drain away at the crack of a whip’s nasty bit of vengeance. You almost feel sorry for the character as the house of cards he’s built and continues trying to support with empty words in a dejected, caught red-handed voice until we cut back to his scorned conquest. In complete control of her emotions, Pill excels at using facial expressions and sarcastic smiles to portray exactly how she feels.

A rapid-fire rhythm lets the carefully controlled script unfold as the actor’s stereotypical personas lock horns, turning the tables as accuser plays the liar like a fiddle. And while the situation is clichéd, there’s an authenticity to the encounter keeping it from becoming cartoonish. Brad progresses from confidence to cowering with an inability to leave courtesy of the misguided belief he isn’t a bad guy. This fuels Denise’s anger and makes us smile as the comeuppance is calmly—and still vindictively—wrought. As the exchange gives its instigator closure, we hope it also indelibly changes the victim so his travesty against humanity will be impossible to repeat. The fact it doesn’t, however, proves LaBute may not be washed up after all.

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