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Pretty Problems is an off-the-rails caper where anything goes. It follows couple Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and Jack (Michael Tennant) whose mundane lives are transformed when they’re invited to a weekend with their wealthy new friends, Cat (JJ Nolan) and Matt (Graham Outerbridge) after a chance encounter. It sets up a promising plot with a notable cast, and though the plot is sometimes a little too unnerving, it’s an entertaining feature.
Director: Kestrin Pantera
Release date: March 14, 2022 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
Lindsay and Jack have officially reached a rut in their relationship. They’re long-term married, the excitement has fizzled out, and they’re bored of their average lives – with Jack working in sales for solar electricity and Lindsay working in a boutique. But things change when uber-wealthy housewife Cat walks into the store one day and Lindsay is enthralled. Cat (with a drawl to rival Toni Collette) reels in the couple with crazy anecdotes and a devil-may-care attitude to life, and Lindsay desperately accepts an invitation to spend the weekend at a wealthy mansion.
However, nothing could prepare the couple for what happens off-grid. From wine and drug-fuelled parties to the couple’s history being forensically examined by their hosts, it feels unpredictable. This film sets out to lampoon the lives of the uber-rich and their ridiculously luxurious lifestyles, while also pointing out that money won’t make you happier. Lindsay and Jack are forced to re-examine their own relationship with each other, yet the profound moments are undercut with absurd humour and ridiculous scenarios. The film’s central message is that the idea of keeping up with the Joneses is ultimately unsustainable, and it’s only when we decide what we really want and find who we want to spend our time with that we can finally be happy.
I enjoyed many of the scenarios in this film: the fact that Jack is initially so cautious about the unexpected invitation and Lindsay’s desperation to fit in with the new crowd felt very realistic and it was interesting to watch them slowly unravel throughout the film. We’re on their side even when they make bad choices to fit in, like ordering a case of $300-a-bottle vintage wine after a particularly boozy morning. They feel like just average people who’ve lost their grip on reality, and we watch them try to keep hold of their fundamental values when they’re being thrown around by their superficial hosts. They’re shocked at the careless attitudes of fellow guests Kerry and Carrie (Alex Klein and Charlotte Ubben) and this ultimately drives them towards the film’s absurd denouement.
The cast brought the characters to life, and it was enjoyable to see them play the wealthy socialites, the maligned staff, and the bemused newcomers. Many of the scenes came from Tennant’s own experiences of being around the wealthy elite in film circles and feeling like an outsider, so to see characters who actively question what’s happening to them is refreshing. The film doesn’t really claim to do anything ground-breaking with the material – in fact, the production team widely states Schitt’s Creek as an influence on the genre of comedy we see here – but Jack and Lindsay’s characters are the most memorable part of the film and their conversations always feel like they’re grounded in reality.
The film isn’t all a sincere exploration of humanity, though: we’re introduced to a flamboyant shaman who offers the group a supercharged detox after a heavy night; there’s a murder mystery night which the characters throw themselves into with entertaining conviction. There are tears, fistfights and obtrusive butlers who know far too many intimate details about their guests. By the end of the weekend (and the end of this film), characters and viewers alike are ready to escape this fabrication and return to reality.
I commend the writers, director Kestrin Pantera and writer/producer Michael Tennant for their honesty in producing this film, and the cast for bringing so much warmth and humour to the roles. The film may feel like it covers familiar territory, but Jack and Lindsay’s characters feel so realistic that you can’t help but feel the same as they do when they’re confronted with all these absurd scenarios.