Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Save yourselves from the insufferable Manhattan lovers of In Stereo

Illustration for article titled Save yourselves from the insufferable Manhattan lovers of In Stereo

They’re a match made in heaven. But unfortunately, photographer David Gallo (Micah Hauptman) and actress Brenda Schiffer (Beau Garrett) live far from any divine space, in that cesspool of self-absorption known as Manhattan. Writer-director Mel Rodriguez III opens his feature debut, which he expanded from his own 2009 short, with the couple at a crossroads: David comes home from a day at work to find Brenda crashing on his couch. She tells him a long story about a lamp she set on fire, forcing the evacuation of her apartment building. She apologizes. He laughs. (This whole scene is captured in an elaborately choreographed long take—the first of several empty, show-off camera moves.) Then she asks, with no prompting, if he wants to move in together. Freeze-frame on his look of death.

Cut to a year-and-a-half later. The couple went their separate ways and both are now in similarly dire places. For a half-hour, Rodriguez follows David as he channels his frustration over the infidelity of his new girlfriend Jennifer (Melissa Bolona)—she’s cheating with David’s best friend, Chris (Kieran Campion)—into a photography project. (He basically riles someone up on the streets or in a bar and then shoots the resulting one-on-one altercation.) The next half-hour is dedicated to Brenda, as she sarcastically and cynically goes about her day, attending an acting workshop, meeting with her exasperated agent (Mario Cantone) and crossing paths, quite by chance, with David. The final half-hour is dedicated to both characters as they navigate their newly kindled feelings for each other, leading to a climax that could be termed “ambiguous” only if one were feeling charitable.

This is a tedious modern romance that thinks it’s spouting universal truths when it’s actually as myopically narcissistic as the two leads. Anytime David or Brenda start talking, their acid tongues and woe-is-me mannerisms act like repellent. There’s some integrity in the way Rodriguez pushes their privileged obnoxiousness to extremes, as when David talks selfishly around the questions posed by his therapist (Sean Cullen) or Brenda belittles a waitress by aggressively listing out her own acting accomplishments. Another (hard to say “lesser”) movie might have made one or the other character totally naïve or blameless. As is, they’re both insufferable, one-note morons, and there’s no doubt they deserve each other.

Rodriguez fares better with the supporting actors, mainly because they have to suggest unseen turmoil rather than bare their sour souls in all their contrived (non)-complexity. Both Bolona and Campion are excellent as David’s cheating significant other and apprehensive rich-boy best friend; Cantone is good for a bitchy laugh or two; and Cullen deserves a movie all his own as David’s hilariously exasperated shrink. His irritation with his patient is palpable, and sure to parallel most viewers’ experience with this astringently feeble rom-com.