"I turn 40 this year...40! I'm like the oldest living fag hag!"
No, that's not an official advertisement you see in the opening seconds of Violet Tendencies--just some good ol' fashioned product placement to smack you in the face as an ample woman proudly addresses her homo friends with a shout-out: "I want to thank Manhunt.net for sponsoring my wedding reception!" Probably not the wisest introduction for a movie, the first impression one of aggressive cyber commercialism (don't you want to try and be at least a little subtle?!). What's even more frustrating is that the ad is for the sexually charged social networking site, one that counts people like "PassAroundPartyBottom69" and "BreedMeRaw" among its members. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it may force some viewers to lower their expectations--or at least check their brains (and briefs) at the door.
But wait! If you weren't turned off enough, we soon hear said woman shouting loud and proud again: "Finally, I found a man who loves me and my pussy!" Speaking of pussy, Violet (Mindy Cohn) sure likes to talk about hers a lot--so much so that the word almost starts to lose its distasteful power (almost...): "Stop calling my pussy a gash wound!" and "I deserve someone to love me and my pussy!" are just a few of the exclamations. She also likes to talk about her FUPA on a blind date, along with how cheese clogs up her anal cavity. That causes the man to scram, and really--who wouldn't?! Another potential hook-up runs away after Violet mentions how Moo Shi pork gives her gas. Coupled with the fact that Violent spends all of her free time in gay bars with her "boys", and you're left rolling your eyes when she whines: "Why oh why can't I find a straight man?!"
That's the crux of Violet Tendencies, the latest from director/actor Casper Andreas (The Big Gay Musical, Slutty Summer and A Four Letter Word, the latter two films containing some of the same characters in this film). Sadly, it's a mostly superficial exercise that doesn't even aim for depth--the relationships and story are shallow, so the film's only hope is the humor. But unless you're satisfied with easy and dirty jokes, this might be a really long 97 minutes. I gave the film plenty of chances, and can buy into some of the raunch--but that's really all the film has to offer, a second-half payoff of maturation never materializing. There's definitely an audience here, and Violet does better than many of its genre peers--but the sincerity it proclaims is often just a façade.
It's a shame, because there's talent on both sides of the camera--and we get brief glimpses of a much more satisfying picture. But it's hard to ever take any of these characters seriously--and poor Cohn is saddled with a script and character that feels like it was written by a gay man hoping to appeal to gay men (in the audio commentary, Archer notes that Cohn changed at least one line because it sounded like what a gay man would say during sex). Violent isn't even in the film half the time--the lives of her gay friends take up equal time, so it doesn't fully feel like her movie anyway. Maybe that contributes to her sadness, forcing her to sleep with her vibrator and an open jar of peanut butter (wait for it...Dickie's Nut Butter!). She also has her phone affixed to her ear in the hopes that Mr. Right is just one Frisky Friends voicemail away.
Also by her side are some self-absorbed men too busy to truly care about Violet's loneliness. Their solution? She needs to find a "Fag Stag", the male equivalent of a Hag. Meanwhile, we're left with their one-dimensional traits: co-worker Riley (Samuel Whitten) spends his time convincing baby-obsessed partner Markus (Andreas) that he wants to move up in the world, not adopt a child (which is the only thing we really know about Markus, other than that he spends more time blogging his feelings than sharing them with Riley); while roommate Luke (writer Jesse Archer) spends his time managing roving sex parties: "Can I use your salon for my 'Lazy Tops and Power Bottoms' party? My host bailed after the last police raid." (Cause who hasn't been to one of those?!)
Luke met his BFF at a glory hole: Darian (Adrian Armas) owns the salon in question and soon breaks up with relationship-phobic Luke. That leads us to believe that there's more to Darian than just his good looks and great body (halleluiah!), sending Luke into a frantic panic to win him back. Then there's Zeus (Marcus Patrick), an HIV-positive go-go dancer also looking for love. (In the film's most awkward and uncomfortable scene, he apologizes for spontaneously kissing a drunk and lonely Violet because "I'm positive!"--and not because he's being selfish and taking advantage of her and the situation.)
Violet is also surrounded by some exaggerated characters at work: flamboyant designer Bradleigh (Dennis Hearn) won't cast models that are too flamboyant, and isn't below aiding in some staff blackmailing to please Climax magazine; while angry lesbian Donna (Andrea Cirie) wouldn't mind getting inside Violet's skirt ("I've got toys...still got my hymen!"). Then there's Salome (Kim Allen), an uptight glamour girl whose eating disorders are constantly played for "laughs"--if you find things like her fixation on a bagel that's been dropped on the floor, her turmoil over a carrot and her march to the restroom to puke after eating a French fry funny (this happens after Violet stumbles across Salome passed out behind a dumpster: "Feed me!"). These gags are far too obvious, something you'd see in a terrible '80s sitcom.
Clearly, we aren't meant to take this seriously, and that hurts the film's punch. Despite all of those cartoon-like qualities, we're supposed to buy that Salome is the closest thing Violet has to a girlfriend--so much so that she buys into the skinny bitch's advice to ditch her gay friends in order to find true love, taking on Salome as her "coach" (consider the source, Violet!) just so she can be told she has a "fucked-up face" and should "go under the knife to kill the Fag Hag inside." Despite all common sense, it sounds like a good idea to our leading lady: "They do refuse to go to straight bars," Violet complains of her friends. "And they're always insulting my pussy." (Somewhere, Mrs. Garrett is screaming...)
That leads her out of the arms of her drinking buddies and into the embrace of Vern (Armand Anthony, whose phone voice sounds eerily similar to the killer from the Scream series), an oddball architect with a column obsession who (miraculously) isn't turned off by Violet's suggestive phone talk before they meet: "Columns? You wanna talk about thick, rock-hard shafts? How 'bout putting them up my chimney pot, Mr. Architect? Yeah! Then you can stucco my flying buttress to the wall!" (I can't decide whether the film is trying too hard, or not trying at all...does it have to take every opportunity to insert obvious sexual innuendo?)
Against all common sense, fruit fly Vi takes Salome's words to heart. She puts the breaks on her gay social life and spends more time with Vern, which sort of bugs her buddies (but not really). All of these little conflicts come full circle toward the end with zero surprises, and some with particularly aggravating character regressions that prove this film isn't concerned with development or meaning--the resolution of the Luke/Darian subplot is the most infuriating, a highly unsatisfying end that had me throwing my hands up in frustration (Darian ain't nearly as deep as we were led to believe). And Violet finds happiness in the wackiest of places, giving hope to all lonely hags that love is just one gay sex party away!
Speaking of those parties, Luke decides to have one in (are you ready for this?) their shared apartment--leaving an unaware Violet to nearly vomit at the discovery of "biss" (butt piss) splattered across her mattress and tablecloth, the film going to the There's Something About Mary well for its biggest gags. But in a film that asks you to care about these people, I cry foul at these relationships, which are forced and manufactured. (If my roommate brought a bunch of strangers into my apartment to have dirty leaky sex on my bed, I'd pack up my things and leave that night. Who does that?)
Nonetheless, most of the actors here are good, and have the charisma to help you sometimes overcome the film's flaws. As Riley, Whitten comes closest to reaching something resembling relatable behavior and reactions, but his parenting phobia isn't explored beyond the surface--and develops in such broad strokes, resulting in a wasted opportunity. Archer also has a strong presence, but isn't given much to do. Cohn certainly has charisma, and her delivery and expressions go a long way in selling the thin material. She does what she can, and a few touching moments (an early conversation with Luke and one later on with Zeus) give us hints at what might have been; sadly, the script glosses over its themes of overcoming loneliness, feeling a sense of belonging and fighting the urge to "settle" in your search for love by quickly quashing these exchanges. And when the film isn't in a rush to get to a raunchy punch line, it has a few smiles in store. I was particularly fond of a sequence where Violet goes from anxious hope to disappointed rage to sweet surrender--all in a matter of seconds--when she meets a potential suitor in a park, Cohn shining with her comedic skills.
Still, the overall impression here is one of disappointment. With all of the talent, this could have been so much more--and I'll be happy when I see the day that indie gay-themed comedies don't feel the need to talk dirty and flash us so much Wink! Wink! Nudge! Nudge! T&A (hmm, make that D&A...). About 25 minutes into the film, Luke pleads with his ex to take him back. Darian's response? "Thank you...for that rare glimpse of sincerity." It's a thought viewers of Violet Tendencies will know all too well, the script letting our leading lady down just as much as her friends do.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is decent, showing some nice detail on closer shots like hair and skin detail. Overall, the picture maintains a slightly darker, dim visual tone, and colors don't quite pop like they could. Overall, a respectful effort for a low-budget indie.
The 5.1 track doesn't really make itself known in the rear channels, but it doesn't have much opportunity to. The dialogue for the most part is clear, with no major issues.
Leading the way is the audio commentary with director/actor Casper Andreas and writer/actor Jesse Archer, who talks about the basis for the film and how some of the casting/story changed (we also learn about the character progression from the people in Slutty Summer and A Four Letter Word). The two have a blast together and play off each other well, their camaraderie and friendship coming across as heartfelt and genuine; they laugh and joke a lot--guyliner, Cohn fellating a straw, the sets, Cohn's discomfort with some of the dialogue, wardrobe choices (go Beavers!), clipboard people, a revelatory hook-up from Archer's past, some missing underwear and (perhaps the track's funniest moment) bad flowers--making for an animated listen that shares a lot of tidbits about the film and the cast (still, it would have been great if Cohn was also here). They also talk about going overboard in a few scenes (biss, a dress, egg beaters), along with a few mistake scenes (like the wallet scene, which definitely should have been cut; and the model interview scene, which loses its purpose considering its companion scene was deleted). They also explain an in-joke that may escape non-New Yorkers. They share how they wanted Violet to come across, the difficulty they had getting extras to fill a few scenes and note that actor Marcus Patrick was fired from the soap Days of Our Lives after posing nude for Playgirl. And to my shock, they agree that cutting some meaningful dialogue at the end was a good idea...huh?!
Up next are three deleted scenes (totaling 4:05), which include a locker room look at a giant penis and a telling scene that sheds light on Violet's mindset (it would have been a wise inclusion; it speaks to the character's state of mind and shows some potential for character growth).
Behind the Scenes: Cast Interviews (12:38) has informal talks with four principal characters behind the scenes: Andreas and Archer are joined by Patrick and Cohn, who provides the highlight: "It's really been a great opportunity for me as an actor to do something at my age that I haven't been able to do before, which is to have a sex scene, to have this kind of bawdy, vulgar side--which is part of who I am, that my friends know, but I've never been able to put on film. So just having that experience has been kind of very freeing."
The Film Festival Q&A (25:36) has Andreas answering 12 viewer questions after a screening at the Desperado Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Phoenix. It starts out with some simple stuff, but gets more interesting along the way as he touches upon Marcus Patrick's penis, Cohn's infamous dress and the challenges in casting gay versus straight actors--and the difficulties he has had dealing with some closeted actors that didn't want to help promote his other films. We also learn more about how the role was originally written for Archer's friend Margret Echeverria, who was reduced to a smaller role (seen in the opening scene) when they got Cohn. The script is partially based on her life, and was initially meant to continue the story of her character Audrey from Archer and Andreas' A Four Letter Word. "We basically told her, 'The part is yours unless we find someone with a 'name'," shares Andreas, met with sad and surprised groans from the audience. "Yeah, it's horrible."
Under the Pink Carpet (5:06, full frame) has Stephanie Butler interviewing four cast members at the film's premiere at New York's Newfest in June of 2010. It's mostly fluff, but still offers some cute moments. Most intriguing is actor Samuel Whitten confirming he's straight (no!!!), a fact that doesn't come in handy during the (cut) locker room scene (he was so nervous, he ended up having to do lots of cuts with a giant Johnson in his face). Also on tap are Andreas, Archer and Echeverria.
Trailers for six more of Andreas' films round it out.
If the thought of The Facts of Life's Natalie constantly talking about her vagina gives you pause, you might not be in the target demographic of Violet Tendencies (we've come a long way from Eastland and Edna's Edibles, haven't we?). A superficial look at the lonely life of a "fruit fly" eager to find love yet still maintain her status among her gay BFFs, the film never really goes beneath the surface--instead relying on sex and dirty, lowbrow gags to sell itself amid a sea of manufactured relationships. Moments of a much better picture creep in, giving us hope that the solid cast will be given more to do than just look pretty and talk dirty. But alas, the film goes on gay cruise control and leaves you feeling empty and used, like a discarded power bottom at a "Brought to you by Manhunt!" gang bang. You deserve better, Natalie...and so do we. Still, for those with low expectations who find themselves in the mood for a mindless gay romp, I suppose there's some minor fun to be had. Maybe I'm just expecting too much...Rent It first if the subject matter speaks to you.