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Women in Trouble
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by Jay Seaver

"Big, funny 'Trouble'."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: To a certain extent, I don't care who the audience for "Women In Trouble" is - it made me laugh out loud and then did a little more than amuse me, and that makes it good in my book. On the other hand, I liked it enough to want people to see it, and I worry that men won't be interested in a movie where a female ensemble talks about their feelings while women won't appreciate that the characters are prostitutes and porn stars dressed for pulp magazine covers and engaging in raunchy comedy. Or does that mean it's got something for everybody?

There are allegedly ten Women In Trouble, although the number is somewhat inflated. Choosing a starting point at semi-random, there's Charlotte (Isabella Guitierrez), a smart but odd girl at her weekly appointment with psychiatrist Maxine (Sarah Clarke), who is blissfully unaware of what is going on between her husband (Simon Baker) and Charlotte's mother Addy (Caitlin Keats). Earlier, we met adult film stars Electra Luxx (Carla Gugino) and Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki); Electra has just found out she is pregnant, but on the way back from the doctor's office she gets stuck in an overheated elevator with Doris (Connie Britton), a claustrophobic with a past of her own who happens to be Charlotte's aunt. Holly, meanwhile, agrees to do a "sister act" with fellow call girl and best friend Bambi (Emmanuelle Chirqui), but bad things happen, leading them to cross paths with some other characters. And on a seemingly unconnected flight, stewardess Cora (Marley Shelton) needs the help of her partner Maggie (Garcelle Beauvais) when she and a rock star (Josh Brolin) join the mile high club and things go terribly wrong.

The story is probably better represented by a chart than a paragraph like that, which is actually leaving out one or two of the title characters and a number of others, including the one played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, despite being in the opening titles, doesn't appear until the scene that runs after the closing credits. It could be a bit of a confusing mess, but writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez does a pretty good job of keeping it relatively simple at the beginning: Characters are introduced in small groups, and each one that is going to be important is given a trait or a line that sticks in one's memory so that when the characters' storylines start merging and intersecting, it's not difficult at all to keep everything straight.

The risk of that approach is that it can reduce the characters to one-note ciphers. That happens in a few cases, but most of the time, Gutierrez gives his cast room to work. It's somewhat inherent in the movie's genesis and means of production: The movie started as scenes that didn't fit into other projects, and the shooting schedule was a very quick twelve days, with each cast member only available for a day or two. So the movie winds up being, in large part, a series of two-person conversations in single locations. That gives the cast some pretty nice opportunities to show their stuff.

Most of them seize that chance. Two women stripping down their underwear and talking about subjects that include the sales of a rubber replica of one's vagina is probably not what Alison Bechdel was thinking about when formulating her rules (nor is it typical chick flick material). The ladies in question are Carla Gugino and Connie Britton, though, and it doesn't take long before the audience is less ogling the skin than listening to them talk about all manner of things, from the sex toy to rivals to lost children. They're great to watch together, a little skittish and unsure, but down-to-earth enough that it's not hard to believe that they could bond as tightly as they do.

It's not hard to praise Gugino and Britton for their performances; they're both folks who have paid their dues in supporting parts, less-seen movies, and television, and they bring that to their characters. But also deserving a lot of praise is Adrianne Palicki, who plays a character that can easily be dismissed as just a dumb blonde, a call girl making the move into adult films. It is, however, a really wonderful performance; Palicki gives Holly Rocket enough (misplaced) confidence to make the dumb blonde jokes work and insecurity about, well, something she does at work, to make her kind of lovable despite that. It's a shame that she doesn't really get to go full-on rapid-fire until the closing credits scene. Nearly as notable is that as casually vulgar as porn-star "office humor" is, her big character-developing speech is really just spectacularly gross, and she somehow makes it funny, sad, and sweet by the time she's done with it.

And for all the talk of character work and good acting and maybe subverting the pulp, sexed-up way the movie's women are presented, the thing that the audience will take away is that Women in Trouble is a funny, funny movie. It's often crude and raunchy, broad as can be, the sort of comedy women don't often get to do, and they stay funny even after they've been given some depth. Gutierrez and his cast do a great job of playing both sides of the street, making us take these character seriously even as they make us laugh.

Will crowds go for that combination? I don't know, and I take some consolation in the fact that the people involved don't seem to care - they've already finished shooting a second movie with about half the cast returning, and have a third planned. If Gutierrez and company can keep making them this good on a budget, I'll certainly keep watching them.

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originally posted: 04/08/09 11:46:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/13/10 gc Bad acting and characters we could care less about, oh and its not funny either 1 stars
4/05/09 Anne Telluride Outrageously sexy and funny comedy! 5 stars
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  13-Nov-2009 (R)
  DVD: 16-Feb-2010



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