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Ass Backwards

Gravitas // Unrated // January 28, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted February 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Self-delusion can be funny, but often sad

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Casey Wilson, comedies
Likes: June Diane Raphael
Dislikes: Dopey broads
Hates: Disappointment

The Movie
A couple of not-too-bright female best friends whose lives haven't turned out the way they hoped are headed back to their hometown, and are forced to confront their unfortunate realities. It was a fun film back in 1997 when Lisa Kudrow and Miro Sorvino headlined Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion, and now stars and co-writers Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael have put their own take on the idea with Ass Backwards. This time though, the big event bringing the girls home is the beauty pageant that brought them together as friends, and the ladies, who are a bit older, aren't so much dumb as insanely delusional. Recognizing their struggles as mainly self-inflicted, the film goes for it in a way that most female-focused films don't, never handling them with kid gloves.

Since her brief stint on SNL, Casey Wilson has been a favorite of mine, bringing a strange, nervous energy to her characters that enhances their comedy. Her biggest character to date, Happy Endings' neurotic Penny, exemplified this trait, chasing happiness, but often sabotaging herself. Chloe is similar, living a miserable New York City existence as a go-go dancer, while her bestie Kate (Raphael) is a busy business woman whose sole business is selling her eggs to prospective parents. Unwilling and unable to see their lives for the shambles they are, they tell themselves that they are successful. However, when an invite arrives for them to compete in the anniversary edition of the beauty pageant that has defined their lives, they set out to recapture their falsely-held glory.

As with any movie featuring a road trip, the voyage back home offers a variety of problems for the two, including an amusing layover at a sapphic hideaway and an awkward talent show, but it also serves to reveal more about Kate and Chloe, whose eyes begin to open, especially when they stop by to pay a visit to Chloe's father (a schlubby Vincent D'Onofrio.) While Wilson and the severely-underrated Raphael (who has the rare ability to maintain high dignity while still being silly or funny) earn a good deal of laughs throughout, in part because of the ridiculous confidence they exude, the film puts their characters through the wringer, to the point where it actually gets pretty sad, sending them to rock bottom. It's not all big feelings and awful realizations though, and Wilson and Raphael deserve credit for avoiding the temptation to redeem their heroines, nor have them find happiness in a relationship. These are people you wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with, but 75 minutes isn't torture.

Director Chris Nelson (the recent Date and Switch) keeps the film feeling fun even when the subject matter isn't, with a bright, somewhat artificial look (like a pumped-up sitcom of sorts.) This is obviously Wilson and Raphael's show, lending a comfortable feel to the film, while a host of cameos for comedy geeks to watch for include Bob Odenkirk, Paul Rust, Drew Droege and Raphael's husband, Paul Scheer, in a part he was born to play. Though there are a lot of solid ingredients in this mix, the end result is too uneven and not funny enough when fans of the these two women sit down to watch. As irreverent as the film can be, they may have a bit too much invested in these characters (whose adventure is partially based on their experiences) to let us just laugh at them. These feelings just aren't cooperating with expectations.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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