– By Sooz Webb
Must be funny, in a rich man’s world. Evelyn and Lonnie Schumacher don’t seem to think so. Disappointed that their patriarch and renowned skin flint Herbert has somehow bested an inoperable brain tumour, the pair have been burning through the man’s cash quicker than a frenzied shopper clears the aisles on Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep. Afraid of getting rumbled for their nefarious spending sprees/extramarital entanglements, the unscrupulous son and wife team up to finish the job, proving themselves far more malignant than any form of cancer.
Aesthetically, Lisa Mikitarian’s story of deceit and the almighty dollar is a wonder to behold. From the retro blend of 1940’s kitsch to a homage to the decade’s cinematography style, visually every moment on screen is pleasing. Bold, campy and colorful, a perfect backdrop was devised to emphasize the dark vein of comedy in a narrative which focuses on death, greed and corruption. But, unfortunately, it falls just short of the mark. The premise, while an interesting one, isn’t explored to the fullest, coming across as more mediocre than macabre. Occasionally, it finds a foothold, and when this happens there are some genuine laughs or evocative gravitas, but in the main we muddle through clumsy dialogue that’s stilted and unnatural. This in turn becomes quite frustrating, as we can see what an amazing social commentary Spent could be, but we never quite get to finish that journey.
The performances don’t lend themselves to the script either, as the cast try to exhume one another from bizarre conversation. Unsure whether to ham it up or play it straight, we get an uneven mixture of both, sometimes within the same moment, leaving audience and players confused about the film’s overarching direction. Is it farce or melodrama? Nobody really seems to be sure. Nick Nerangis is the exception in this. He chooses the path of scenery chewing and runs with it! Initially set up as the miserly meaney pants who just won’t die, his affable and gregarious portrayal makes him the most likeable and sympathetic of the whole bunch. How he got such a bad reputation throughout the town remains a mystery to me! Regrettably, the films uneven final third slows down his momentum, and he too becomes embroiled in an overabundance of exposition. His madcap antics and cheeky one liners are fun while they last.
Spent is a laudable debut from this first time director. Slightly sharper dialogue and zippier editing would have helped to retain pace, but to indulge in the creative process is no easy thing, and everyone will translate the work differently. The writer/director clearly has a vision and with a bit more experience under the belt, will be a formidable storyteller. I for one look forward to seeing what she comes up with, but until then, if you’re a fan of style over substance, then Spent is well worth the investment.