Sometimes people do a movie because it sounds easy, and even filmmakers need to pay the bills and put food on the table. Oftentimes these projects have a bit of cleverness in the log line, an idea or two that might have gone a long way in a better movie, but for the most part, these films can't quite overcome the stench of mild disinterest. Kissing Cousins is the opposite of those films; it's clear that for at least most of the cast and crew, making the film was a positive experience and they contributed enthusiastically. Yet that dash of cleverness becomes more of a detraction than an addition, because the film ends up standing in the shadows of other, more inspired productions. Not that I'm looking to bash the film, mind you, but aside from a few flashes of inspiration, it's nothing you haven't seen before.
When we first meet Amir (Samrat Chakrabarti), he's at work...dumping someone. Not someone he knows, either: he's a professional breakup specialist who goes in there and paints the big picture for those lacking in courage or disinterested in the ties they're severing. Amir is good at his job because he does it without letting anything in, without consideration or interest in the feelings of those he's informing. Amir lives his life the same way, living alone in a bachelor pad, confiding only in his fish, and ignoring calls from his family. On the few occasions he goes out with friends like Tucker and Liza (PJ Byrne and Lauren Stamile), he gets chided for not being in a long-term relationship. Things only get worse when his best friend Charlie (Zack Ward) comes back from vacation with a new girl named Tina (Nikki McCauley) and a surprise announcement -- they're getting married, and despite Charlie and Amir's lifelong friendship, he's not allowed to be the best man because he's got "poor relationship karma". Feeling somewhat rejected, he heads home for Thanskgiving, only to meet his beautiful cousin Zara (Rebecca Hazelwood). He agrees to show her around LA, but when they show up for a meeting with Amir's friends, she impulsively pretends to be his girlfriend to see how they react.
The on-screen pairing of Chakrabarti and Hazelwood is the main factor making the film work. Their chemistry is the thing that makes the movie work: as the audience, you can see it building as both an innocent friendship and as a problematic romantic interest, without it ever seeming too disturbing or twisted. Hazelwood also flirts with the potential of turning into another fantasy woman, the kind the internet has dubbed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. When she kicks the plot into gear, it makes enough sense from her point of view (making fun of the mushy, domestic dream all of Amir's friends are living in) that it doesn't seem like an out-of-nowhere invention by the script. Why they keep the joke going is another question (maybe to get Amir his best man job back, but the newly-taken Amir never asks for the position, so perhaps not), but the movie sort of breezes by that conundrum, with Amir's friends basically taking it at face value after being told the pair are a couple.
Amir's breakup job is fairly amusing, although it's impossible to believe that Amir doesn't encounter more people who refuse to talk to him, or worse, beat him up, especially since he takes each person's picture using a Polaroid camera after he's done breaking the news. At his apartment, he's often joined by his neighbors hanging out in front of the building, played by David Alan Grier and Manish Goyal. Grier gets in quite a few amusing lines, although the box art plays up his part as if it's more than a glorified cameo. Other such roles include Gerry Bedknob of The 40-Year-Old Virgin as Amir's father, bonding with a kid assigned by a Big Brother-type organization, and Jaleel "Urkel" White himself as the goofy, aggressive, Navy boyfriend of Amir's sister.
One of the risks filmmakers run when devising a risque plot like Kissing Cousins is both knowing how far to push the envelope and how far to pull it back. Admirably, Kissing Cousins stretches the concept out to just the right length before easing back and allowing some other stories to come into the picture. It fumbles a little in the home stretch; writer/director Amyn Kaderali's script doesn't seem to want to risk going back to the topic once the couple's sham has fallen apart, so the overall arc of the characters' relationship seems a little unfulfilled (as does the ending capping the entire movie, which comes out of nowhere and doesn't feel entirely satisfying). Chakrabarti also gives a terrible "drunk" performance in one of the movie's final scenes, but the intent of the scene still made it through, so I suppose on the whole I can give him a pass.
On some level, a director's vision is a convoluted pipe dream. There's no doubt that filmmakers, especially writer/directors, get a picture of what they want their movie to be when they're writing it out, but when the pieces come together, they no doubt imagine if the film can exceed even their own lofty expectations. This weird image of better-than-perfection is the thing that holds Kissing Cousins back; instead of elevating the movie above and beyond the call of duty, the cast and crew elevated the movie to a perfectly unremarkable level of charm. This is a movie that pitches itself perfectly to its ideal audience: if you pick it up off the shelves at your local video rental store and think it might be worth a spin, it probably is, but that's as far as it goes.
Kissing Cousins comes in a decidedly low-budget looking case playing up the numerous character actors in the film (specifically Grier, Bedknob and White) and not much else. The disc art is plain, the menus are easy to navigate and there isn't any insert.
The Video and Audio
At first, I thought the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looked okay, even if it was clearly digital (complete with ghosting during fast movement). Then Amir got inside his darkened apartment and everything went to hell. Posterization like crazy! Artifacts crawling up every surface! Even scenes that aren't brightly lit but are far from shadowy have a sheen of mosquito noise on them. One shot late in the movie is so heavily posterized and awful-looking that it doesn't even retain any evidence that it's a live-action image and not an illustration. I'm also not sure that it's a filmed image; it may be a photograph because there's no evidence of anything moving within the frame. This is, of course, a low-budget affair, and these days, you can no doubt expect these kinds of things with independent DVDs, but the bottom line is still that this DVD will not look good on a larger television set.
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is a little better. There's some excess "white noise" coming from the production audio from time to time, but the dialogue is clean and clear, which is good, because the disc has neither closed captioning or subtitles. The surrounds get a little use, mostly when an upbeat song or two pops onto the soundtrack, but it's certainly not riddled with compression flaws like the picture is.
"The Making of Kissing Cousins" (8:19) is an agreeable little EPK with the cast and crew. It doesn't go in-depth on the making of the movie, but it's certainly more pleasant than most studio EPKs and it isn't littered with clips from the movie.
A short called "On Set, Off Script" (2:29) basically amounts to a gag reel, with the cast goofing around between takes.
Interviews with director Amyn Kaderali (7:39), Samrat Chakrabarti (4:11), Rebecca Hazelwood (2:57) and co-producer/actor(/stand-in/chauffeur) Manish Goyal (6:22) are good extensions of the interviews in the EPK featurette. If you enjoyed the feature, these interviews should prove to be enjoyable and entertaining. I feel like writer/director Kaderali deserves a special mention; despite my reservations about the film overall and whether it stands tall among the other films I've seen, this is a charming, well-made, well-written movie on many levels and he certainly seems like a nice guy.
All of these features seem to be promotional, because they all have the release date and the website at the end. It's a shame that Kaderali and his two stars didn't get a chance to record an audio commentary or something new for the DVD, but for once, the promo material is pretty good. Automatic trailers for Tre and Waiting for Dublin play before the menu.
Since I used a rental-store analogy in the last paragraph of the film section, it seems only fitting that I assign Kissing Cousins with a firm rent it assessment on the DVDTalk scale. If you're a videophile, though, just don't be surprised if the transfer leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
NOTE: When I attempted to play this disc in my computer it went haywire. The audio became grossly out of sync with the picture (although you could hear a second version of the audio, fainter, playing accurately). Jumping to the menu failed to stop the out-of-control sound. Watching it on my DVD player, I encountered no issues.
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