Easier With Practice isn’t a horror film in the traditional sense, but audiences should be forgiven for watching a good third of it through squinted eyes and webbed fingers, as an unconventional relationship tests the excruciating limits of human intimacy. Spinning off from Davy Rothbart’s autobiographical GQ article “What Are You Wearing?”, it starts with the cheapskate masturbator’s fantasy come to life: an anonymous phone-sex operator calling him, not the other way around. It then develops, not implausibly, into a honest-to-goodness relationship, as the pillow talk slowly starts to eclipse the mutual gratification, and the lonely-hearts on both ends of the line seek to know more about each other.
Best known for his supporting work as third wheel to Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker, Brian Geraghty reaches a higher plateau of ineffectuality as a young author who finds an unlikely way to stave off boredom and disappointment on the road. Touring the Southwest in support of his short-story collection, along with his loutish brother (Kel O’Neill), Geraghty is surprised one night by a phone call in his motel room. The sexy voice on the other end of the line is “Nicole,” who expertly coaxes him past his initial embarrassment into engaging in a raunchy—and funny, and kind of sweet—erotic dialogue that ends with the promise of more. As Geraghty and his brother travel from one poorly attended reading to another, he and “Nicole” keep in touch (in a manner of speaking), but she remains coy about her identity and the possibility of meeting for real.
Easier With Practice doesn’t get any better than that first encounter between Geraghty and his tele-paramour, a single-take marvel that’s alternately awkward, hilariously absurd, and a little erotic. Geraghty’s frantic efforts to find some masturbation space, away from his prying brother and other onlookers, recalls David O. Russell’s debut comedy Spanking The Monkey, and first-time writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has a keen eye for composition and a good handle on how this relationship evolves. It ends worse than it begins—the big reveal was bound to disappoint, though it’s treated with care—and Alvarez’s reliance on plaintive indie-rock songs as bridge music slows the pace needlessly. But love stories don’t come much squirmier than this one, and Alvarez plays it with honesty, insight, and the awkwardness inherent in this blindest of blind dates.