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Losing Control
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by Jay Seaver

"A fairly successful experiment."
4 stars

I try not to get too worked up about science in movies, but given that "Losing Control" is about a scientist trying to apply the scientific method to her personal life and the title is a pun that you kind of need to know a little bit of science to appreciate... Well, shouldn't inconsistent results in the control group of her experiment have been a bigger issue? Sure, a chunk of the audience won't care, and probably shouldn't. They will likely just find this an entertainingly off-beat movie, and it's pretty successful on that count.

The young scientist whose experiments are having the wonky results, preventing her from finishing her Ph.D, is Samantha (Miranda Kent); for some reason, whenever it's time to present her spermicide that only targets sperm carrying a Y-chromosome, the control group is unusable, and the ability to reproduce is making her question everything. This includes her five-year relationship with boyfriend Ben (Reid Scott), so while he is on a fellowship in China, she sets out to prove that he's the one empirically - by testing a larger sample, so to speak.

Good plan? Not really, and when you get right down to it, the fact that the control sample is unreliable is only one of many parts of the script that doesn't quite make sense. Other parts are telegraphed pretty early or otherwise built out of pretty broad stereotypes; it's a screwball comedy with the emphasis on the screwy. That said, writer/director Valerie Weiss never makes any pretenses about it being something else; and the somewhat heightened environment works for it more often than not. By my usual crude litmus test for such things - how many characters exist only to advance the plot without actually being funny? - the movie is as focused on making the audience laugh as one could hope for.

And the jokes are in general pretty good. Weiss's sense of humor is crude at times but much more often whimsical than nasty; even the raunchier gags tend to be a lot closer to straight slapstick than gross-out material. They come at a steady pace and work at a pretty good rate, keeping the chuckles going throughout and occasionally scoring some bigger laughs. Some gags are admittedly kind of inside - I'm not sure how a couple of things that made me laugh will play outside of Boston or a science-savvy audience - but for the most part, they come from within the character, and tend to ring as true as funny.

Star Miranda Kent has a big part of that; as Sam, she's got the tricky job of being awkward and eccentric enough for the story to make sense without being so odd that the audience can't relate to her. She does pretty well by that, managing to play up how good-natured and vulnerable Sam is so that she's sympathetic as all these screwy and humiliating things happen to her without turning the character into a pitiable sad sack. It's a bit larger-than-life, but kind of charming. She's got a nice cast to play against - Kathleen Robertson makes the promiscuous best friend a much more fun character than usual, while Lin Shaye puts enough actual concern into her Jewish Mother part to make the jokes seem more than just hackneyed. John Billingsley, Ben Weber, and Jamison Wang are good lab partners, while Theo Alexander, Neil Hopkins, and Sam Ball each add to the dating scenes. Reid Scott kind of gets stuck as the guy who is closest to normal in the middle of peculiar situations, but does so with the sort of aplomb and enthusiasm that suggests that if things had broken a little differently, we'd be watching a movie driven by his enthusiasm for East Asian Studies.

Weiss mines her own experiences as a grad student in the sciences for this movie, resulting in the relatively rare case of a filmmaker being credited as her own science adviser. She does pretty well on the more conventional parts of the job as well, putting together a first feature that looks big and polished despite needing unusual locations for an independent comedy. There's also a respect for science and the scientific method that is frequently lost in other movies with themes of needing faith as well as empirical proof and plots involving corruption in the research community.

That last bit won't be important to many and likely will only be noticed by slightly more. It doesn't really have to be; it's a piece of evidence that while "Losing Control" may have its rough spots, it's a charming and enthusiastic enough comedy to make up for them.

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originally posted: 04/10/12 01:44:11
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User Comments

1/06/13 Scientific Method This was a terrible movie. What's funny are all the fake reviews posted all over the web. 1 stars
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