24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Bridesmaids

L.A. Film Festival: The how-tos of 'How to Cheat'

June 23, 2011 |  1:30 pm

HOW TO CHEAT photo 1 by Gabriel Diamond 

It's not unusual for independent filmmakers to juggle numerous roles in the production of their films. With "How to Cheat," a tonally ambitious blend of comedy and more serious situations playing as part of the Narrative Competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Amber Sealey is credited as director, writer, producer and actor. During an interview Monday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, she was bouncing her 4-month-old daughter and nonchalantly began breast-feeding while answering questions without missing a beat.

Yet serving so many different functions on the film was not without challenges.

"On the one hand I like being involved in all aspects of it, the acting, the editing; it's nice to have your finger in all the pies," said Sealey. "But it is hard, and I think the thing that probably suffers the most is my acting. While I'm in a scene with someone I'm thinking, 'Will we use this take?' Or I get distracted. And it can take me out of it as an actor. But I try."

In the film, Sealey plays one half of a couple trying to conceive while also grappling with the lingering emotional baggage of a miscarriage. Her husband, played by Kent Osborne, searches for something in his life to claim only for himself and decides to have an affair. Going on a series of dates, he brazenly admits his intentions until he finds a woman (beguiling newcomer Amanda Street) intrigued and amused enough to get involved with him.

While it would be incorrect to say the film puts a positive spin on marital infidelity, for its trio of characters the affair does become the catalyst they all need to get out of the respective ruts they have found themselves in. Even the film's title, with its hint of instructional aid, points to helpfulness rather than condemnation.

"I was just trying to approach the subject of cheating with the least amount of judgement possible," said Sealey. "Does Amber think cheating is wrong? Yes. But for the sake of the story I wanted to look at it with no judgement on any of them. Essentially they're all good people, they're not setting out to hurt other people, they're just struggling for some sense of satisfaction.

"So I wanted to look at them all equally and the reasons for doing what they are doing. They all have valid reasons for the choices they are making. I'm not trying to say cheating is right in any way but you make the best out of what happens. They may not be the best choices, but they're making them."

Though the film has a few racy moments -- including an encounter between Osborne and Street involving some rope and a cellphone that is equal parts sexy and scary -- it remains behavioral and grounded, never tipping over into situational raunch. Which is to say that despite having a female writer/director/star and taking a rather startling shift toward the perspective of its female characters in the final stretch, the film might not quite fit into any emerging trend of potty-mouthed lady-centered comedies. (You can catch its final screening Saturday at 7 p.m.)

"I see this as a comedy in some ways, but I don't see it in the same realm as 'Bridesmaids,' " added Sealey. "But I love the idea of more women's comedies and women's stories. And by that I don't mean stories about women, but where women are in charge of where the story goes."

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-- Mark Olsen

twitter.com/indiefocus

Credit: Amber Sealey and Kent Osborne in "How to Cheat." Photo by Gabriel Diamond.


Los Angeles Film Festival: Kate Bosworth's 'L!fe Happens' follows 'Bridesmaids' down the aisle

June 19, 2011 |  4:18 pm

   Happe

The so-called  "Bridesmaids" wave, that potential boomlet in raunchy female buddy comedies, may or may not materialize in the coming years. But at least one movie resulting from similar impulses is, it turns out, already here: "L!fe Happens," an independently financed film starring a collection of TV-friendly young actresses that world-premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday night and is seeking theatrical distribution.

The  feature debut of Kat Coiro (a writer-director who's part of a sort of east-side-of-LA entertainment mafia) could have been conjured in a writers room headed by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. What if, it asks, a twentysomething Silver Laker, living an at once daunting and trouble-lite post-college life with two roommates, gets pregnant after a one-night stand  but chooses to keep the baby? Spending no time on the reasons behind this rather monumental (and not exactly demographically common) decision, the movie plunges us into the aftermath.

Kim (model-turned-actress Krysten Ritter, who co-wrote with Coiro), Deena (Kate Bosworth) and a  ditz named Laura (Rachel Bilson, in a smaller role than that of her co-stars), share one of those group houses you've seen (albeit with men) in a hundred Judd Apatow movies. Except, of course, for the baby twist; the existence of Kim's roughly year-old son pitches the responsibilities of motherhood against the vagaries of slacker life. He also makes finding a boyfriend kind of difficult.

What appears at first like a comedy about unexpected pregnancy -- a kind of ragged, female "Knocked Up" -- soon levels off into something more akin to "Bridesmaids": a look at how longtime female friendships are tested  when one friend goes through a major life change. As with the Paul Feig hit, that life change brings into the open long-submerged personality differences. Deena is well-read, career-minded and sexually bold. Kim is a kind of nerd underachiever, a dog walker who has big dreams of opening a canine-only shopping mall.  (Someone really needs to come up with better movie-character jobs.)

As the baby demands more of Kim's time, it sets the two women on a surprisingly serious collision course before giving way to Apatow-ian sweetness.

Whether the film's intensity of purpose will come off as thoughtful or strained will of course be for audiences to decide. Coiro, though, says she had little doubt about the social need her movie filled.

"As a director coming into my own career, I found there were no really exciting female characters," she told 24 Frames . "There were the foils rather than the ones driving the ship." She and Ritter decided to write a script that puts the ladies front and center. "L!fe Happens," which was being developed at roughly the same time that Fey's "Baby Mama" was getting made, was conceived at one point as a studio comedy, and even retooled as a network sitcom, before settling into its current friends-and-family indie incarnation. (Coiro met some of the actresses through her husband, Rhys Coiro, best known as the hair-trigger director Billy Walsh on HBO's "Entourage.)

Coiro said she found some of the "Bridesmaids" references she's been hearing a little amusing -- she began working on her movie nearly four years ago, she points out, when "Bridesmaids" was barely a glint in Kristen Wiig's eye. But she says she also takes heart in the comparison.

"I think it's a good sign that we're talking about these things," she said. "There are so few movies where you just see women talking to their girlfriends." ("Sex and the City," she says, doesn't really count; that franchise was "heightened. It's not  the experience of girls coming home after work and eating a burrito in front of the TV.")

At a post-screening question-and-answer session Saturday night, Bosworth chipped in that she was drawn to the layers of friendship in the script. "I loved that it was kind of a love story," the actress said. "Women, we're deep. When we connect, we really connect."

When Apatow and his crew created the raunchy slacker bromance, an indie strain followed several years later in the form of movies such as "Humpday." It's not taking nearly as long for women to follow suit.

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Los Angeles Film Festival: As buzz builds for 'Drive,' Gosling and Refn contemplate a different genre

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 Photo: Krysten Ritter (l), Rachel Bilson and Kate Bosworth in "L!fe Happens." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival


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