This year has been an interesting one, I’ve discovered and watched more films in the past month or two than I ever anticipated coming out this year with a few more to come. This film is one of the few that found its way to me via the PR department which suggested that I watch the film via the site We Are Colony. This film is one of the few where I do stretch the definition of a “comic book movie” to include movies about comic books themselves. The comic book in question is written by Allison Pill’s character and also plays a large part of the movie via animation. I wasn’t exactly sure where this film was going, and there is one major component of the story that’s easily spoiled, and is in much of the advertising for the film but is actually better if you’re unaware of it for the first watch. There’s a lot of humor, a lot of sex and nudity without having a lot of actual nudity, and it has an interesting concept that can be surprising, but I will be spoiling in this review. One final note about We Are Colony’s site, it unfortunately wasn’t a great experience for actually watching the movie without a solid high speed internet connection, there’s very little buffering allowed and there’s no option to lower the video quality – or if there is, it’s not easily found. So trying to watch this movie with a spotty internet was more of a pain than it should have been.
Before going too far, it’s worth taking a look at the whole concept of this film, something that’s not made explicitly clear within the movie until closer to the end. There are essentially three concurrent stories going on. There’s the one that feels like the main story, mainly because it’s the one the film starts with, featuring Allison Pill and Tyler Labine playing two co-workers in a sex doll factory. Pill plays Emma who in her spare time is drawing a comic book that includes herself as a busty femme fatale, but the actual story involves a sexy filmmaker who is trying to make an art film and struggling with the studio who wants something more commercial. His story is told through animation. But there’s also a third story that initially pops up out of nowhere about this Brazilian model named Michelle who wants to write a novel. What makes things interesting is that it all becomes this cyclical connection where you’re not exactly sure which story is supposed to be real life and which is supposed to be fiction. We learn early on that the animated Edward is a product of Emma’s creation. But eventually we learn that the novel that Michelle is writing turns out to be about Emma. Not only that, but the film that Edward is making is about Michelle. It’s a fascinating concept that works, at least until it doesn’t. The problem with this kind of concept is that it’s difficult to know where to cut this snake eating its own tail, and while the ending here is passable, it’s also a bit of a cop out.
What really helps sell this concept of these worlds being created within the context of this movie is how each one develops into a more cohesive world the farther along it goes. But again, this is also an issue with the movie because Emma’s world appears to be fully fleshed out from the very start. When we meet Michelle, it’s on a photo shoot in an all white room where she keeps being told to be “nothing” by the photographer. We also get to see her in her home with her unsupportive husband played by Jason Priestly where nearly everything surrounding them is a colorless white. It’s not until she flies off to her home country in Brazil that color starts to come through in her world. This is also very pronounced in the animated world of Edward who starts out as a rough outline, and as the film cuts to the animation more often, the outlines become more detailed, color begins to pop in, and by the end, it’s a fully colored animated world. Emma’s world is generally unaffected by the progression of the story until we first see her connection to Michelle as she is writing her story and re-writing it which is shown by a beautiful effect of writing appearing in Emma’s background and coalescing into a part of the background in a few parts. It’s again a little troubling though, because where the other two stories are becoming more fleshed out throughout the film, when we see Michelle affect Emma’s story it becomes more stylized and less real.
What does work the most about this story is the humor. Tyler Labine has always handled comedy well and he has great chemistry with Pill and there is a ton of mileage pulled out of the sex doll location alone. But on top of that, there’s a secondary story where Pill decides to get breast implants to become more like the drawing of herself, but realizes that large breasts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. She also takes revenge at one point on her animated Edward, who is a total Lothario who tends to get his way by sleeping with whoever is in charge (as long as it’s a woman), by shrinking his manhood. This is played up by quite a few moments of embarrassment comedy, including one where he gets a high tech prosthetic member but decides to take it with him swimming. Michelle’s arc tends to be more dramatic and at one point gets a little too arty – but is immediately undercut by switching back to the animated studio head who rips it apart because she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Michelle does finally get to partake in a little bit of the humor when reshoots turn her story into a cheesy action movie.
On top of all the comedy, there is a lot of nudity. But surprisingly with all of the sex, there is almost zero actual nudity. Pill and Labine both work in this sex doll factory which includes these lifelike, naked dolls in the background of nearly every scene they are in, sometimes the foreground even. And when Pill goes to get her implants, the doctor’s office is filled with large backdrops of perfect looking naked bodies. And after she gets her implants, we do get to see Pill’s new larger breasts, but considering the actress doesn’t have breasts that large they are obviously prosthetics. And in the animated world, there is plenty of sex going on, but that’s all strictly animated nudity. The only moments of actual nudity shown are in Michelle’s time in Brazil when a woman she meets goes cliff diving sans top, and later Michelle decides to try it herself. It does help add another layer to the artificial nature of the three stories.
One of the best things about this movie is that there is so much to unpack, but at the same time, it’s enjoyable to watch. All of the characters are sympathetic and/or entertaining. The ending is slightly problematic, but it does what it needs to do for the most part. It brings all of the stories together where they finally realize what’s going on, but it doesn’t really offer a satisfactory solution, it merely ends with the words on Michelle’s page reading “wake up” before cutting to black, aside from an early credit sting where we hear from a couple of the animated characters who had been smeared complain about their state of being. There are two likely scenarios, one is that Emma is the crux. She is the story that we start off with, we see the initial creation of animated Edward, and she does draw the idealized version of herself which eventually comes into play when she gets her breast implants, and the “wake up” at the end is intended for her and her alone. The second scenario is that it’s a shared dream state and all three of them wake up at the end. The dream has always felt like a cop out in terms of story telling, but at the very least this film merely hints at the dream state without taking the next step and showing someone actually waking up. The concept itself is an interesting one, but I would have liked the film to have taken that concept one step further. As it stands now, the connectivity of the three worlds isn’t really introduced until later on. It would have been nicer if those triple parallels were worked into everything a bit earlier, but in a way that rewarded repeat viewings. But even with that complaint, there’s enough humor that it works more than it doesn’t. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.