Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 1 - 7, 2009
All About the girls
Photo by John Butterworth
FILM: TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
“My Last Five Girlfriends”
April 22-May 3
BY TRAV S.D.
“Girlfriends” is full of baits and switches. The title cleverly refers not just to the nebbishy hero’s previous five girlfriends, but to his final five. When we meet Duncan (Brendan Patrick), he is in the process of offing himself by means of a drug overdose (Sure, sure, we’ll see how successful that attempts is in a romantic comedy.)
Rather than his life flashing before his eyes, he gets a rather selective dwelling on his rocky last relationships — a motley bunch including a flakey graphic artist who suddenly remembers she still loves her ex-boyfriend (Kelly Adams); an inscrutable, distant mackerel (Jane March); and a free spirit who makes the mistake of buying the ugliest pair of shoes in the world (Cecile Cassel). These three are but brief stops on the way to the meatier stories. Duncan is serious enough about Natalie (Edith Bukovics) to move in with her, but in the end, is swept away by the gorgeous Gemma (Naomie Harris) — with whom he is truly and apparently, fatally, in love.
This might seem conventional enough fare if not for the fact that writer/director Julian Kemp brings to it a hyperkinetic and clever visual style that works overtime to keep the viewer engaged. The journey through his love life, for example, is conducted as a trip to an amusement park, with his experience with each girlfriend represented by a different metaphorical ride.
The entire movie is constructed like a funhouse (or perhaps a Tunnel of Love), constantly surprising with sections of stock footage, animation, fantasy sequences, parodies (of cop shows, industrial films, et al.), and even sections of straight documentary — as with when real-life sociologist S.M. Greenfield comes onscreen to expose us it his preposterous theory that romantic love is a capitalist plot to create more families of new consumers. All of this would amount to so many gimmicks if we weren’t grounded in the characters and the story. Once we get past the jokey early episodes, Duncans’ up-and-down roller coaster ride becomes quite moving.