|Benjamin Lutz (left) and|
John Werskey in "The Love Patient
Michael Simon's debut shows that he has genuine promise as a comedic filmmaker. Simon had already hinted at that capacity with his short film Gay Zombie, but with this, his first feature, the diagnosis is clear. Simon is funny.
The Love Patient premiered at Qfest in Philadelphia. On the same day, around the same time and in the same theater, another movie was also making a premiere. That movie was Bite Marks. I bring it up because the two movies share a few commonalities.
Tone and stylistic parallels aside, the most ostensible commonalities are the pair of actors who star in both. One of which is John Werskey whose role in Bite Marks was that of a mechanic who falls under the spell of an evil woman. Here, Werskey's character of Brad Bond falls under the spell of a conniving advertising executive.
Werskey is sweet, sexy and the perfect object of affection for this romantic comedy. The star, however, is Benjamin Lutz who's the real standout here. In as much as Lutz's character of Paul Richards is the conniving advertising executive, he still in many ways is very much an object of affection for the audience.
In my review of Bite Marks, I noted that Lutz was something special. I wrote, "From his line readings, his facial expressions to his entire physical reactions to certain things, this guy just had me laughing my head off." Lutz brings that same spirit to The Love Patient. He's hilarious and has proven with these two performances that he can handle material like this that admittedly is ridiculous. Yet, he has fun with the ridiculousness and allows the audience to have fun with it too.
Michael Simon fashions a lead character who in many ways is unlikeable. Similarly, we saw Jake Kasdan fashion an unlikeable character for Cameron Diaz in the appropriately titled Bad Teacher. Jason Reitman also fashioned an unlikeable character for Charlize Theron in Young Adult. Simon's unlikeable character for Lutz does what those others did. Lutz's Paul Richards lies and manipulates people in order to serve his own selfish needs.
Specifically, Paul lies and pretends he has cancer. He manipulates his family, including his parents and sister, in order to serve his selfish need to get his ex-boyfriend Brad back into bed, even if it's a hospital bed. At one point, Paul's sister, Stephanie, played by Madison Gray, tells her brother that he's repulsive, immature and irresponsible, and Paul doesn't dispute it, which is part of the joke. Paul knows he's unlikeable. It's not that he's evil or all that awful. It's just that he often has little to no regard for other people. The question is can we, the audience, still like him anyway? Depending on the direction, the writing and the acting, the answer could be yes or no.
Let me start with the direction. With the exception of a few scenes, Simon confines the bulk of this movie inside Paul's house, which is very well decorated. Simon works with 99 percent interiors. As such, he makes these interiors look as good as they can. Besides putting gorgeous men in front of his camera and framing them well, Simon's shots are always bright and rich in color. The staging and movement are very much static, but Simon, especially in the first and second acts, advances through the premise and early plot at a snappy pace. The editing is quick but the scenes feel like they were directed at a brisk speed.
Simon gives this movie a momentum and an energy, which does eventually slow, but Simon's writing does help in the latter half of the story. Simon throws in some witty one-liners here and there, but, aside from what Simon brings, which include a couple of great visual gags like one with facial cream, it's what Lutz brings that sells the story. His Paul Richards is told to grow up at one point and that's how Lutz plays Paul, as a child, an overgrown child, a child who smokes but a child nonetheless.
And, I think that that's the trick to making an unlikeable character very much likeable. We can still like someone who lies and manipulates and only acts in his own self-interests, if that someone were indeed a child. If you really look at it, that's how Lutz plays it. How Paul interacts with people, especially his parents, makes the case. His relationships with all of them prove how much of a child he is in this story.
Lutz isn't the first comedic actor to take this approach with a seemingly unlikeable character. Jim Carrey did it recently with I Love You Phillip Morris. Adam Sandler has done it with several films like Funny People. In that movie though, Sandler's character really had cancer, but I would certainly put Lutz up there on the same level as Carrey or Sandler. If he keeps getting good projects that show off his talents, he can actually aspire to that level and not just in my mind.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.
Available on Amazon Instant Video and TLA Video.