Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SIFF 2017: 'The Feels' (2017) Movie Review

Jenee LaMarque’s The Feels starts out looking like it’s going to be a lesbian version of Bridesmaids or The Hangover. Like those films, it’s bursting with raunchy humor, heavily improvised, and set during a bachelorette weekend. There’s booze and drugs and all manner of pre-getting-hitched shenanigans. But it’s also sweet and earnest and I got misty at places I legit didn’t expect. And all of this from one of the few (maybe only?) movies primarily about the female orgasm.

When a group of friends gather in a woodsy cabin to celebrate the marriage of Andi (Constance Wu, Fresh Off the Boat) and Lu (Angela Trimbur, The Final Girls and like a thousand other things—if you’ve never seen her, you’re not paying attention), it starts off like any other similar gathering. Distant friends catch up, drinks flow freely, and spirits soar.

It’s all well and good and fun until, mid-drunken-mumble, it comes out that Lu’s never had an orgasm. That news comes as a wee bit of a shock to Andi and things take a drastic shift. Preexisting personal issues creep in, emotions run high, friction wears away the jovial surface, and shit gets all kinds of real. Secrets come out, tensions mount, and relationships across the board are put to the fire.

The set up isn’t what distinguishes The Feels. We’ve seen this scenario rendered damn near every way imaginable at this point. And it’s not really about the female orgasm. Sure, it’s an integral plot point—and the taboo nature of women talking openly and positively about their sexuality and sexual pleasure will make some dudes in the audience squirm, and that’s always fun—but it functions as the diving board into the deep end of the relationships between the characters, which is where the true heart of the movie lies.

It’s the chemistry that drives everything else. At least part of this is due to the fact that most of these people are friends in real life. LaMarque plays Lu’s sister, Nikki, who’s dealing with her own life crisis; co-writer Lauren Parks plays Vivien, the lone single straight woman; and LeMarque’s pal and recording artist KARYYN plays another old friend who is, oddly enough, a recording artist.

Stand-up comics Josh Fadem and Ever Mainard add to the off-the-cuff improv as Josh, Andi’s BFF who’s been in love with her since they were kids, and Regular Helen, a filterless, hard-partying wingnut, respectively. The character falls into that stock, inappropriate outlier sidekick role that everyone of these movies has—think Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids or Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover—but I’d still watch the hell out of an entire movie’s worth of Regular Helen outtakes.

Andi, Lu, and the others deal with real, relatable problems in real relatable ways. Over the course of the weekend, and sandwiched between foul-mouthed outbursts, they reflect on trust, honesty, desire, and the various tricky things that so often trip up relationships. It all paints a funny, poignant portrait of female friendship, romantic entanglements, and life in general.

While it won’t blow audiences away with originality, The Feels does what it does well. A handful of incongruous reality-show-style confessional moments don’t jibe with the surrounding film and create a few bumps in the structural road, but relatively minor ones. It’s never clear whether it’s supposed to be a video booth at their wedding or something along those lines.

A couple of these asides also quickly allude to histories of sexual violence, which come out of nowhere and disappears with equal speed. That’s a huge issue, one countless women deal with, but it just appears, doesn’t connect to anything else thematically or otherwise, and evaporates. And while it caught my attention, it’s not like the script drops a bomb or this colors everything that follows, it’s just an odd, vaguely out of place interjection.

With a cast that’s 80% female and a crew comprised of 68% women, The Feels is certainly an anomaly in the male-dominated movie industry. But it’s more than a mere token or a proof-that-girls-can-be-just-as-raunchy-as-boys picture. By now that should be readily apparent.

Heartfelt and relatable, hilarious and moving, joyous and bawdy, The Feels held it’s world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. From there, LeMarque and company plan to make the rounds at other fest and this is well worth tracking down if you get the chance. [Grade: B+]

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