“Aim low and you won’t be disappointed”
With the impending cinematic adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s Lullaby about to swing into pre-production once its Kickstarter campaign finishes, it became time to look into its director Andy Mingo. His filmography includes one independent feature film and a few shorts—the obvious standout on paper being Romance, based upon a story by Palahniuk originating in Playboy magazine. Luckily for me backers were given access to a screener to see where Chuck and Andy’s artistic relationship began as well as anticipate what we can expect from their newest collaboration. My main takeaway after watching was to remember that Lullaby is a much stronger narrative than this slight tale of blind love hampered by a miniscule budget. I can still hope that their forthcoming work will ultimately turn out okay.
Romance concerns a schlub named John (Brian Allard) who’s sworn off relationships and love after his long-term girlfriend passes away. He realized that good things come at a price and he never wants to again discover what that price entails. Fate has other plans, however, placing a promiscuous hottie inexplicably named Britney Spears (Amber Arrigotti) onto his path. They meet on a train to Seattle for Lollapalooza, a weekend ripe for hedonistic pleasures of flesh and drugs. They’re stoned or drunk half the time, her baby talk and penchant for being distracted rendered cutely endearing. John found his soul mate and she’s fallen head over heels in return. From here she meets Mom, earns lecherous looks from strangers, and hears wedding bells on the horizon.
We question this affair from the start—not because of Allard and Arrigotti’s looks, but because of her actions. I think most of the fault for Romance‘s failure is due to the material not lending itself to a visual medium. Reading Brit’s antics such as carving canoes out of zucchini squash to fill them with carrot people and chocolate syrup, punching shoulders yelling “Slug Bug,” and a wild “magic trick” on the bus retains some mystery that seeing them surely cannot. It’s through no fault of Arrigotti either. She plays her role like it must be played, but doing so renders the apparent “twist” non-existent. And from where I’m standing that “twist” is this story’s main purpose. Without it’s shock the message is lost in an exploitative wake.
A lot of Palahniuk’s work toes this line. That’s why I love cracking open each of his new novels. You have to be very careful when transposing his sensibilities to film, though. You can’t just put the words onscreen without being cognizant of how they unfold. David Fincher expertly morphed those of Fight Club so the visual cues and secrets remained shrouded. Language became king and reactions meticulously built to work effectively for those who know the truth and those who don’t. Mingo falters with this step, but I’m not sure how he could have avoided tripping. Brit’s activities simply do not scream “alcoholic” or “junkie”. They are something completely different and thus we aren’t tricked into believing the ruse. We merely wait rather than invest.
Some of this struggle is also due to production value with over-the-top performances by extras and a methodical voiceover by Allard lacking the emotion to allow him into our hearts. The whole feels cold and clinical, a false world to be solved rather than wrap us into its intrigue. The reveal feels almost as though John continues forward to save face rather than out of true desire. If the film succeeds at anything it’s to deliver its love is blind message—happiness as ours alone, outsiders be damned. But it doesn’t let that lay. It doesn’t let John own his joy. He second-guesses himself, weighs options, and chooses this life as a contrast to loneliness not because his hearts begs him. Without that intrinsic yearning, what’s the point?