Neil LaBute knows he’s an asshole. His decision not to direct Some Girl(s), the film adaptation of his 2005 play, demonstrates real integrity, as does his choice to hand the reins to a woman, Daisy Von Scherler Mayer (whose last notable film was 1995’s Party Girl). Clearly, LaBute recognized that this self-critical portrait of noxious self-justification demanded an intermediary—someone who’d ensure that the unnamed protagonist (called simply “Man” in the credits) wouldn’t get off light. And he doesn’t. The only trouble is, the play itself—at least on this evidence—isn’t terribly good, repeating the same basic scenario over and over until its dramatic power has been all but nullified, even as the stakes ostensibly escalate.
The piece’s structural similarity to Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity doesn’t help matters. Here, again, we have a guy (Adam Brody) reconnecting with a series of ex-girlfriends—in this case, as an attempt to settle karmic accounts before he gets married (to a woman we never see or learn much about). But where High Fidelity’s Rob is a basically decent guy with some douchebag tendencies, Brody’s “Man” is that maddening species of total douchebag who’s utterly convinced that he’s a basically decent guy. His various encounters (with women played by Jennifer Morrison, Mía Maestro, Emily Watson, Zoe Kazan, and Kristen Bell) find him spewing arrogance, condescension, insensitivity, and cluelessness even as he fervently apologizes for his bad behavior of many years earlier. That he’s also a professional writer who’s fictionalized these relationships to great success gives Some Girl(s) the unmistakable tenor of a confession.
Taken individually, each of the five scenes is sharply written and ably acted, even if they do come across as transplanted theater. They all follow the same trajectory, however, with the wronged woman initially seeming wary and confused but amicable, then gradually becoming openly hostile, either in response to Brody’s idiocy or as the memories of how he once treated her become more concrete. Kazan’s scene, which LaBute invented specifically for the movie, is far and away the most powerful—it’s hard not to start shuddering the moment she mentions that she’s 26 and hasn’t seen “Man” for 15 years—but it’s diluted by familiarity. Kazan gives a tremendous performance that would inspire awe in a vacuum, but her coquettish behavior at the outset means nothing, as the movie’s agenda is already crystal clear by that point. The title’s parenthetical plural sums up the problem with Some Girl(s): Five slow-cook dialogues that reveal the nice-guy protagonist as a super-tool is four too many.