Readers, I present to you this season’s most archetypal indie drama-comedy character, in the form of Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty). He’s a twenty-something aspiring writer, clad in a casual suit with loosened tie, squinting through glasses and hiding behind patchy stubble.
He’s an underachiever, lugging around his collection of short stories (titled, with oh-so-profound laziness, Things People Do To Each Other) on a road trip reading tour, progressing through the southern States from university cafe to cosy book nook in a beat up old car. His companion on this adventure is his brother, Sean (Kel O’Neill), who, fittingly, is his exact opposite. He’s brash, crude, wildly charismatic and, integrally, a hit with the ladies.
For that seems to be Davy’s problem, he’s beset with that common affliction for characters of his type. He’s awkward around women. All that’s about to change, however, as he receives an odd phone call one night in a New Mexican motel. On the other end is a girl’s voice, and the conversation (which starts innocently, considering the situation), soon develops into full-blown phone sex.
Such is Easier With Practice‘s setup. In situation, themes and characters, it is nothing new, but it comes with a distinct mystery, that of the caller’s identity. She identifies herself as Nicole, but refuses to give Davy her number, and predictably dodges his petitions for them to meet. It is this question that gives the film its structure: just who is she?
It’s unfortunate, because the weight that this question mark gains as the film trundles along overwhelms its more tender moments, since, aside from the kooky central hook, writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez litters the picture with relatively well observed moments of minutiae, from Davy’s unfocused ambition and young adult stagnation, to the odd couple relationship with Sean.
This latter quality, in particular, is mined rather well, teasing out an uneasy chemistry between the two brothers, whose relationship endures in spite of the gulf between their personalities. The enforced companionship on tour is echoed in the aftermath, where the dull monotony of motel beds and the endless open road is replaced with untidy apartments and temping jobs. The film is at its best here, managing to cram a great deal of resonance in a jibe, an irresponsible act, or a remarkably cringe-inducing game of 2 Truths, 1 Lie.
However, one person’s unimposing, charming dramedy is another’s snoozefest, and Easier With Practice, coming hot on the heels of a wave of such films (such as this year’s Somewhere and Greenberg), dallies a little closely to the latter, with its experiments in soft focus coming off as a little doe-eyed, and its incessant use of the patented ‘indie rock montage’ (featuring recent soundtrack regulars Grizzly Bear) substituting narrative development for stylish, superficial elision.
One major problem, however, is its protagonist. Geraghty does well with the anxious gait and mumbly monotone that we’ve seen scores of times before, and is superb when flustered in the 10 minute long take, where he receives Nicole’s first call, but Davy comes dreadfully close to the kind of loser we don’t want to sympathise with. He is a character almost entirely stripped of agency, coasting through his own film, defined more by inactivity than anything else. He is drawn along by the disembodied voice, and falls for a fantasy represented by the cover of a cheap pulp romance novel.
All this heaps expectation on their final meeting, something which is never less than inevitable. And, judging by the film, do you expect it to be all wine and roses?
Easier With Practice attempts to pull the curtain back on Nicole, while retaining some emotional maturity. In reality, it’s a twisted reveal, with the implied shock of the revelation ringing out over the quiet moments that fill out its final scenes. It’s an eggs in one basket situation, and the viewer hopes for a resolution, or minor bit of resonance, that never truly comes. Instead, the film is simply a number of Things That Some People Did To Each Other.
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