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Film Review: ‘The Feels’

Variety logo Variety 6/21/2017 Dennis Harvey
© Provided by Variety

A weekend getaway in the country delivers the expected quotient of awkward revelations and relationship shifts for seven friends in “The Feels.” Jenée LaMarque’s sophomore feature (following 2013’s “The Pretty One”) is an even more sapphically tilted variation on “Big Chill”-type dramedy than “The Intervention” earlier this year, with a similar emphasis on shaggy humor over sometimes less well-tuned dramatics. Uneven but pleasing, this genial indie ensemble piece should accrue a following on the gay fest circuit that may translate into modest theatrical exposure.

The “bachelorette weekend” for soon-to-be-married Andi (Constance Wu) and Lu (Angela Trimbur) is a nearly all-female affair, with only the former’s lifelong friend Josh (Josh Fadem) representing the opposite sex. Lu’s late-arriving sister Nikki (LaMarque) joins him — eventually a little too physically — to hoist the heterosexual flag, along with recently single Vivien (Lauren Parks, who shares screenplay credit here but has given herself the least-defined role). Otherwise, all aboard are 30-ish lesbians, including a successful singer-songwriter named Karin (played by Karin Tatoyan, a Berlin-based musician) and a chef known as Regular Helen (Ever Mainard) who met Lu at culinary school.

Beyond being about the same age, these primarily L.A.-residing folk don’t necessarily have a lot in common, many of them meeting now for the first time. Filter-free dweeb Josh instantly gets off on the wrong foot with Nikki (before they both wildly overcompensate), and every time Helen’s mouth opens, a surreally out-there missive from Planet Butch drops out. Still, there’s no initial awkwardness that a little alcohol can’t fix. Exiting their short-term vacation rental house for a restaurant and then bar in town (the film was primarily shot in Northern California wine-country hamlet Healdsburg), all assembled accentuate the booze with the ecstasy someone has handily brought as a party favor. This induces some very relaxed behavior/talk for which there are morning-after consequences.

That includes the commingled amusement and shock when it emerges that ever-ready Josh and married-with-children Nikki wound up sleeping together — which isn’t exactly infidelity on her part, because (in another unpleasant surprise for Lu), Nikki and her seemingly ideal husband have separated. The biggest strain, however, arises from something Lu had unthinkingly blurted out at the bar: She admitted she’s never had an orgasm, a remark that rendered fraudulent her by-all-accounts explosive sex life with Andi.

This revelation causes the central duo to question whether their relationship is really ready for long-term commitment, and to what extent they’ve been truthful to each other at all. The ballasting dramatic weight LaMarque eventually reaches for here doesn’t quite come off, because the likable characters aren’t drawn with that kind of depth, and the conflict’s resolution comes about all too easily via a speech that feels as over-hasty and convenient as it is fairly clever.

But as a comedy, “The Feels” has considerable sprightly appeal, although it could have used slightly more assertive visual packaging. The dialogue and scene rhythms have a nice, loose, improvisational feel, and Steph Zenee Perez’s editing maintains a bright pace that sags just a bit during a few brief midsection lulls. Though their characters are variably detailed, the cast — apparently all the filmmakers’ friends — make an ingratiating ensemble. Its wild card is Mainard, whom one can spot a mile away as a practiced stage comedian, and who provides numerous moments of hilarity here. There’s a running device of the characters being “interviewed” (by whom? for what purpose?) about their formative sexual experiences and general insights re: the orgasm. While they provide some structural variety in the otherwise straightforward narrative, these sequences are sometimes flat — but totally worth it for “Regular Helen’s” bit, which is hysterically funny.

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