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Dating Games People Play

Westlake Entertainment // R // February 12, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted March 24, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Background: Dating these days is tougher than many people understand since there are so many conflicting messages being sent to us from all the so-called experts. A quick look at the self help section of any decent bookstore will show you how complicated people make the idea, a growing number of folks under the impression that a date is essentially a job application for either a life long commitment (marriage) or at least a romp in the hay (sex; typically a one night stand) that the art of just going out to have fun seems to be lost. Such are some of the situations dealt with in a witty little romantic comedy by freshman director & writer Stefan Marc, in Dating Games People Play.

Movie: Dating Games People Play is a low budget independent movie that explores the foibles of modern dating through the eyes of Nick Jenkins (Austin Peck) and Mona Evans (Leslie Bega); two very different people with goals and lifestyles substantially apart from one another yet close enough to let love blossom if they only give it a chance. Nick starts out under the gun of heavy pressure to make his fledgling software company succeed when his alpha female finance pushes him too far. They break up and Nick seems relieved that he can focus on his financial life as suggested by his doting parents. Contrast that with Mona who wants all the trappings of a successful relationship leading to marriage and children, having already found her career of choice and narrowly escaping a relationship to a man that leaves her (for her brother!). The movie then goes into overdrive to show how the couple seeks out companionship geared to their needs, forgetting that any successful pairing involves giving as much as you get. That remains the mantra of the movie to me in many ways since it skirts a lot of issues in favor of the feel good, not too tightly plotted set of encounters the two go through. Needless to say, a chance encounter over a parking spot eventually develops into something more, even their misfit friends (hotty Stephanie Brown as Mona's ultra driven friend Robin and Nick's geeky buddy Jed as played by the director) finding each other strangely appealing.

The movie seems as though it wants to be two different movies in the process of telling the tale though; a straight forward teen comedy like those espoused by National Lampoon (complete with vomit jokes, sexual encounters of the third kind, and some over the top antics that will be more than indie movies typically try to get away with) and a light romantic comedy between Nick and Mona in the vein of your typical Aniston/McConaughey style flick for couples. It never really becomes either type of movie totally though and that makes it watchable to a broader range of folks that aren't looking for something light to take a date to see; not nearly as stuffy as most artistic adventures on the art house film circuit by a long shot, though still firmly tied to the roots of upper middle class sensibilities as displayed.

The tender moments make up for the cruder attempts at debauchery (and vice versa depending on which gender you're talking too) and while it treads no new ground to speak of, it does manage to entertain without pandering like the higher budget flicks tend to do (frankly, most movies in the genre seem as if written by committee, watered down to offend the least amount of people, and then sanitized even more). This time, couples are "investing" time & resources in relationships as if the return on investment had better darned well exceed some predetermined goal lest the broker be called in and the portfolio realigned. As mechanical as that sounds, director Marc plays up some of the stereotypical gender roles but not to the point of excess so much as to make valid points a general audience can identify with.

The movie rarely goes for the belly laugh, showing favor of light grins or nods of appreciation that "someone gets it" in a manner that a Hollywood hack writer churning out generic titles would never understand, making it worthy of your time and money. My only two complaints here were that some of the dialogue seemed stilted (either by the way it was read on the part of the performers or the way it was written, maybe even adlibbed) and the entire manner in which the secondary plot about Nick's business dealings were so prominently displayed. They just didn't work and even at best showed a tacked on nature ill befitting some of the more cleverly handled scenarios from the movie. As someone currently on the dating market myself, the movie appealed to me as a comedic send up of the difficulties of modern romance that earned a rating of Recommended.

Picture: Dating Games People Play was shot on 35 mm film in color using a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio enhanced by the anamorphic process as shot by director Stefan Marc. There was some aliasing and occasional compression artifacts, the colors looked lightly washed out at times, and the project definitely had that first timer look to it. The editing was choppy enough that I wondered if each editor was given their own section to work on too, indicative of differing styles clashing to me, but this added to the way the film's almost episodic nature was presented and worked within the stated confines of the thematic material. There was no doubt the movie could have benefited from a larger budget in terms of the visual appeal but as a fun flick to watch with a date, I suspect it will be just fine for most of you that don't expect it to look like it cost a fortune to make.

Sound: The audio was presented in the usual 2.0 Dolby Digital English using the 192 Kbps bitrate. There was not a lot of dynamic range here or separation between the tracks but the occasional musical interludes fit the material and the vocals were clear enough. A few of the sound effects were slightly off in terms of timing but there was little to detract from the material at hand for viewers of such movies.

Extras: Most movies like this do not have extras worth much replay in my lengthy experience but I was pleasantly surprised to find some nice ones here. There was an 11:01 minute long Behind the Scenes that added some fun, a 4:06 minute clip regarding how lead actor Austin Peck was bitten by a dog in the face before shooting was finished), some biographies, trailers, a few minutes of deleted scenes, and a photogallery. While not living up to the huge releases of Hollywood (or porn) in this sense, the extras did add value to help obtain the rating it earned.

Final Thoughts: Dating Games People Play was a pleasant little romantic comedy that a lot of you might have overlooked when it played on the film festival circuit not long ago. A quick look at some local rental outlets yielded no copies but while this might not gain a lot of critical praise (it lacked the kind of "name power" or controversy the old fashioned press demands to merit a favorable nod), it was a cut above the pack in a number of smaller, more intimate ways that real people appreciate. The lead females, Leslie Bega and Stephanie Brown, were the best things about the movie on a consistent basis but the short clips tossed in landed more hits more often than not, especially the wonderfully contrary and positive message about marriage courtesy of Clay Rivers as Vinnie and Tamie Sheffield as his wife Tiffany (Would you like your blowjob before or after dinner? How about both? Okay!") so check out Dating Games People Play if that is the kind of thing you are looking for.

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