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Perfect 46, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite perfect, but free of defects."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Science fiction on film often tends to be action-oriented, even when the filmmakers would really like to be focusing on an idea, if only because an hour and a half of someone spewing jargon is not a natural match for the medium. Even when filmmakers do go for something a little more cerebral, they often stumble because they don't surround the concept with the quality of characters and story that they would in a mainstream drama. "The Perfect 46" may stumble on occasion, but it's got an interesting, unusual human center that at least merits the viewer's attention.

That would be its main character, Jesse Darden (Whit Hertford). He's the creator of the website ThePerfect46.com, which uses personal genome sequences (something residents of certain states are required to have mapped as a matter of course in this story's world) to determine the likelihood of a couple's children being born with hereditary diseases or other traits. That's controversial enough, but when the site gives users the ability to find optimal matches, it is arguably the start of a disastrous chain of events.

Writer/director Brett Ryan Bonowicz effectively follows two or three tracks in telling Jesse's story, interspersing clips of a TV news special on the rise and fall of the site with non-documentary scenes of what was happening with Jesse both during and after those events, although given that one of the two young men who break into his house spends a lot of time watching a tape of the special, it does resolve into a single narrative more neatly than one might initially expect. Bonowicz moves between these views in a nimble manner, never leaving the audience confused about when he our she is our settling in to the point where moving away is jarring, even when switching to and from the VHS television recording. It does admittedly result in a little bit of bloat and repetition; coming out of the film I felt that the filmmakers either should have chosen either narrative or faux-documentary and stick with it, though it probably just has room for some fine-tuning in retrospect.

However the story is actually being told at a given point, it's always about Jesse, and Whit Hertford takes the sort of lead role that he probably doesn't get offered very often and wastes no part of the opportunity it represents. Some of the opening scenes are a little shaky as Bonowicz opus to show Jesse as having OCD that doesn't really manifest elsewhere in the film, even if they do help drive home the central irony that he's a short, limping, asymmetrical-looking guy who wants to help eliminate sub-optimal DNA, and there's a bit of that self-loathing in his every scene, even if it is hidden well under the surface. Hertford gets the combative, aslant aspects of Jesse's personality just right, in that he's someone who would quickly exhaust one's patience in the real world but who remains compelling as a character in a film. He works the bits that make Jesse sympathetic so that they work even if the audience cringes at how he handles a bad situation.

Not all of the rest of the cast is up to the standard Hertford sets, but they don't necessarily have to be; in the news report-style segments, it's okay for them to seem a bit unpolished and out of their element, although I do like how James M. Connor doors actually come off like a senator trying to simplify the technical jargon. The folks who have to play opposite Hertford generally hold their own, especially Cheryl Nichols as his wife and Don McManus as his friend and business partner. Kelton John is a bit rough as the burglar who has a bone to pick with Jesse, but he's good enough that a climax built around the two characters speaking to each other had plenty of juice.

Which is good; at its heart The Perfect 46 is far more about Jesse's personal hubris than how scary science as a whole is. There's enough talk of eugenics to get the audience primed for some good after-film discussion, but it's always tied in with the characters and most specifically Jesse's feelings of guilt and betrayal. Bonowicz doesn't even do a while lot of world-building apart from mentioning California's mandatory gene-sequencing, at least not in the conventional sense; instead, he appears to set his movie a few years in the past so that there are no modern but futuristic-feeling things that would overtly emphasize the science fictional elements.

That probably helps the filmmakers put together a very well-crafted movie for not a lot of money; I'm especially impressed with Marco Cordero's oftentimes dark and moody photography. It's not often that one sees this approach to science fiction taken so successfully, and that many programmers will choose to emphasize the scientific concepts being examined over Whit Hertford's performance makes it a welcome surprise.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26284&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/22/14 15:18:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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