[This week, Jenika and Alex are covering select films from the Los Angeles Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “Los Angeles Film Festival.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]
With a title like that, how can you resist? How to Cheat is an indie film about a man who tries to do the wrong thing for once in order to make his life worth living again. Billed as a dark romantic comedy, it focuses on the mindset of a man who really has no idea what he’s doing. He tells all he ladies he courts that he is trying to cheat on his wife. Just, like, straight up tells them this. He is clearly not cut out for this sort of thing. Comedy gold, right? How could you mess up a premise like this?
Mark (Kent Osborne) has always been a nice guy, but he’s grown tired of it. His life is not glamorous. His friends are jerks. His marriage with Beth (Amber Sealey) is on the rocks after trying to conceive for over a year. Mark thinks that having an affair might help bring some feeling into his life. Being out of the dating pool for so long means he has no idea how to interact with women anymore. Then he meets Louise (Amanda Street), and things start to get interesting.
Sex can be pretty damn hilarious, and How to Cheat does a wonderful job at capturing the awkwardness of it all. The sex scenes are not sexy in the least, and are the biggest laughs in the movie. Despite seeing Mark’s penis bounce all over the screen in the first few minutes of the movie, it’s hard to picture him as a sexual being. Whenever the sex was just implied, I felt disappointed that I couldn’t see more of it.
Unfortunately, the sex scenes were not nearly frequent enough to make up for the rest of the movie. In a movie based on characters, it’s important to get to know them well, but by the end of the film, I still didn’t feel like I knew them. Beth is a nervous wreck, Louise is a drug-addled mess, and Mark is somewhere between depressed and outright insane. I guess his actions are supposed to make him seem like a loveable dork, but they just make him seem disturbed. He dances in the nude, wraps himself in toilet paper, and masturbates into a sink while crying. These descriptions sound kind of funny. The scenes really, really weren’t.
Films can be very entertaining with a low budget. In fact, some of my favorite movies ever had low budgets. Talent can’t be completely oppressed by a lack of funds. I mention this because the production quality of How to Cheat goes beyond excusing it as low-budget or even amateur: the work is simply sloppy at times. There are awkward jump cuts in the middle of conversations, and there’s no reason they couldn’t have just been re-shot. The sound mixing is horrendous. The volume levels are inconsistent, and the background noise is very loud and changes from shot to shot.
The sound is not the only thing lacking. The cinematography goes from artistic to art student very quickly- there are long shots of body parts for no reason, and there are more blurry, shaky shots than I care to count. The pacing is off, and the story feels unfinished and too long at the same time. The movie is mostly about Mark, but it’s suddenly about the two women at the very end, leaving us feeling unsatisfied and wondering more about Mark and his mental state. I’m usually all for more female involvement, but the sudden shift doesn’t feel right. There’s also the problem that Sealey is the director as well as a major character, and many of the shots of her seem cherry-picked to make her look as pretty as possible.
The acting varies wildly. The entire script is improvised, and while the delivery is usually good, Osborne has a problem with laughing at his own jokes. If you don’t know that they are improvising, his inappropriately-timed smiles just further the idea that Mark is completely deranged. Interestingly, this film won the Best Performance in a Narrative award from the LA Film Festival, so perhaps there is another version of the movie that I was not watching.
While there are some genuinely funny moments in the film, they really aren’t worth watching the rest of it. The only other redeeming factor is that you do get to see both of the women’s tits, and they’re pretty nice. Or you could look up tits on your own time and watch something more entertaining. Honestly, that’s probably the better plan.