Thursday, January 21, 2010


[With Amber Benson's and Adam Busch's Drones (starring Angela Bettis) playing at Slamdance, I thought I'd haul out and touch up a review of one of her earlier movies. A version of this originally appeared at Film Threat.]

Two inept burglars invade the home of quite possibly the most dysfunctional family on the planet. Secrets abound: Patriarch Paddy is cheating on wife Elaine (the delightful Christine Estabrook), she’s planning on leaving him, one son is a horny loser, the other everyone suspects is gay. Louis the Burglar doesn’t care about any of this. He’s after the money that Paddy has stashed somewhere in the house. Unfortunately for Louis, his dim-bulb girlfriend, Justine, is the friendly type and starts to connect to the misfit nuclear family, particularly after they tie the group up and try to figure out what to do next. The inevitable hostage situation begins to mutate as power switches hands, negotiation turns into haggling, and it is no longer clear who is in charge.

The second film written and directed by Amber Benson (her “sophomore effort”, if you will, after Chance), Lovers, Liars and Lunatics is a speedy black comedy about a situation that continues to implode with every passing exchange. The tone of the piece is so easy-going and breezy that each dark turn comes as a surprise as the viewer is certain (conditioned by years of sitcom viewing) that the opposite and happier outcome is sure to arrive. It’s more Eating Raoul than What’s Up, Doc? (Although, I suppose, I just ruined that sense of the unknown for you. Sorry about that.)

Originally written as a stage play and adapted to the screen, a fact that will not be lost on viewers, the cast is primarily restricted to the single location, safe for asides set in the office. Unlike many one-location movies, (Barefoot in the Park, Two Girls and a Guy, The Ref—a movie Lovers, Liars invokes in many ways), the blocking doesn’t feel claustrophobic and the viewer is invited along with the hi-jinks. Benson keeps the story moving and the script is very funny.

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics is filled to the brim with a solid ensemble cast, though not surprisingly the film seems to lag slightly when Benson, playing supporting character Justine, is not on camera (something that will be evident to even non-Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans). Whether Benson gave herself the juiciest role or that’s what the daffy Justine became is debatable. Beautifully shot on 35mm by director of photography Jakobine Motz Lovers, Liarssuffers only from an uneven pace that will not bother folks schooled in indie filmmaking but the casual mainstream viewer may find off-putting. While it helps if you’re already pre-disposed to enjoying (and sympathetic towards) indie films, there is enough going on here to hold even the antsiest viewer’s attention.

Benson and her family not only funded this film on their own (her mom is one of the producers and sister Danielle is an associate prod. and created the artwork seen throughout the film), but are self-distributing it as well. Purchasing a copy through the film’s website is an official mark of support for independent filmmaking. So go here and buy a copy. Buy three, keep two and give one to a friend.

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