Movie Review - 6 Love Stories (Portland Film Festival)

Michael Dunaway is a journalist and filmmaker. He's the editor of the Movies section of Paste magazine. Last year, he became the Creative Director of the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida, but for years prior he's been making movies, mainly documentaries. This movie though will be his feature, narrative debut.

What Dunaway has done with his co-writers is craft six, short films. Instead of running them one at at time, each one by itself, the six, short films run concurrently. He edits them so that we're cutting back-and-forth between the six. Dunaway himself stars in the third, short film. He plays Nick Grant, a man deciding on where to send his daughter for school. He discusses it with his ex-wife Terry, played by Alicia Witt (Cybil and Friday Night Lights).

Ross Partridge (Stranger Things) stars in the first, short film as Wes Ellis, a smarmy, party crasher who sparks up a conversation with a woman poolside who came with her sister but does not want to be there.

Jennifer Lafleur who actually had a small role in Partridge's film Baghead (2008) stars as Amanda Selden, the stage manager who's running a show that consists of a series of artistic and intellectual speakers. One of whom is Amanda's ex-girlfriend Camille, played by Ogy Durham.

Marshall Allman (Prison Break and True Blood) also stars as Pete Rouget, an aspiring screenwriter who complains about a bad, Hollywood meeting with his ex-girlfriend Mara, played by Jamie Anne Allman, the real-life wife of Marshall Allman.

Stephen Tobolowsky (Silicon Valley and The Goldbergs) stars as a professor who's written two books critical of Will Rogers who is now taking a tour of Will Rogers' home and bumps heads with the stubborn and protective, tour guide, played by Beth Grant (The Mindy Project and Sordid Lives: The Series).

Carrie Preston (True Blood and The Good Wife) stars as Diane, a wife still in the bed where she was having an affair after her husband, Alan, played by Matthew Lillard (The Descendants and Scream) has caught her in flagrante delicto.

Of all the short films, Preston and Lillard are probably given the best material, or at least the heaviest. Both perform it superbly. Lillard is perhaps close in performance to his character in Match (2015), which was an adaptation of Stephen Belber's play, and whether an adaptation or not, this film too feels like it was designed in terms of dialogue and blocking to be a stage play.

In the IMDB description, this entire movie is said to be Love Actually (2003) meets Magnolia (1999), which might have been Dunaway's intention, but the execution has key differences, which might be due to budgetary reasons. These love stories aren't really stories. They're love conversations, conversations that perhaps go on longer than they should, at least in the locations that they do.

The characters feel tethered or locked into one spot unable to leave when in some cases they logically would. In the case of the stage manager and the professor, keeping them in one location makes sense, but, for the others, it strains credulity to restrict them to one setting. In Magnolia and Love Actually, the characters went places, more than one and actively did things. They didn't just sit around one place and talk.

Dunaway's movie feels less like Magnolia, which made use of the city of Los Angeles. Instead, this movie feels like an episode of Days of Our Lives, or some comparable, soap opera. Now, I like Days of Our Lives, and doing something like it for the big screen isn't inherently disappointing, but it all goes by too quick. There's a dearth here. Before you get a chance to really dig into the characters, it's over.

Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 16 mins.

Playing at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For previews of other films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
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