Love Object

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/22/03 07:42:04

"This Is What You Get For Being A Pervert"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Everybody wants to be loved and we’d all love to love. Some of us are lucky while others are lonely. The lonely are portrayed in movies as either ugly, lovelorn or freaks. And the lucky? Well, who wants to see a movie about them? Robert Parigi’s Love Object tells the story of one such lonely guy and for two-thirds of the film plays it straight enough to have the audience wondering what classification of the three they would file him under. That’s before the film’s big twist that we were apparently watching a horror film revealing itself as nothing more than “May” done wrong.

Never heard of May? It played at Sundance 2002 before getting released in a few scattered theaters earlier this year. It was the story of a lonely girl and the doll her parents bought her. Kind of a social outcast, she did her job efficiently and then fell in love with a local boy. When things start to go bad, was the freaky doll starting to get inside her head? It took about an hour for things to begin to reveal themselves, but a flashforward at the beginning hinted at an ensuing tragedy. We are given no such clue in Love Object.

IT tells the story of Kenneth (Desmond Harrington), a lonely technical writer (the second of said profession I’ve seen this year represented as a shut-in, so guidance counselors take note) whose co-workers introduce him to a flyer for love dolls. Of course, who would want to spend $10,000 on a lifeless piece of plastic that only feels real? Maybe a lonely technical writer with a nice bonus coming.

At the office though is a real flesh-and-blood woman; Lisa, a shy, but beautiful temp (Melissa Sagemiller) who begins to work side-by-side with Kenneth. Shy or not, his interest is clearly defined by fashioning the doll in her image and later vice versa. If only he had an extra rib to spare to give the Nikki doll one extra bone or, at least, to smack her with when he starts hearing her talk to him. Psychotic, possessive and reactionary, this film hardly comes off as pro-woman. She doesn’t like him gazing into a pair of real eyes and soon we wonder who is wearing the pair of pants in his mind.

The film’s first hour isn’t anything new. We’ve seen the disturbed mind intruding on romantic triangles before (Christine, Magic) and Parigi never pushes the limits into satire or something truly frightening. The relationship does skirt by on enough moxie from Sagemiller who gives a quietly charming and ultimately very brave performance as the person the title may just be referring to. The revelatory storm-before-the-calm moment typical of most romantic comedies is poorly handled as just a setup for the ugly third act rather than fashioned on how two adults in love with each other would react. It all leads up to a conclusion laced with irony, yet full of (perhaps unintended) misogynistic overtones.

Much like the character of a lonely man, there are so many places to take this material. Why it had to fall back on bondage and bloodletting like an extended Tales from the Crypt episode, you’ll never guess. At least if the Crypt Keeper introduced it, we would have been prepared. Reducing the lonely to the criminally insane without exploring or caring for the character’s introductory nature is like calling for the hooker before trying to apply yourself for something more meaningful and satisfying. Chances are, you won’t hear much of this film either. That’s because the title reflects what it is. “May” is the real thing.

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