Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Review - Easier with Practice

The most intimate relationship in Easier with Practice exists between two people who don't meet for the majority of the picture. Davy (Brian Geraghty) is a young writer who is touring America with his brother Sean (Kel O'Neill) to promote his self-published collection of short stories. He is a nervous, introverted young man, uncomfortable in his own skin, so there's a certain logic to the way he attaches himself to a woman who only exists as a voice at the other end of a phone. When Davy is alone is his motel room one night, the phone rings and the mystery caller introduces herself as Nicole. The scene that follows is shot in a single take, the camera remaining discreetly above waist-height as the bewildered Davy sits on his bed and slowly warms to the idea of engaging in phone sex with Nicole. After that, Davy is smitten with a woman he has never met.

It sounds implausible, but Easier with Practice is apparently based on the real experience of Davy Rothbart, who wrote about his unusual encounter in GQ. Kyle Patrick Alvarez's directorial debut is a portrait of loneliness and it is given a vital sense of weight by Geraghty's sensitive performance in the lead role. His Davy recoils at any sense of real, physical intimacy – a fact that seems to have damaged one relationship, with old friend Samantha (Marguerite Moreau) – but with Nicole he starts to relax, and to open up. Although her first few calls result in Davy having to find private spots in which to masturbate, their post-coital conversations eventually begin to become more important. Nicole remains in control of the relationship, though, refusing to give Davy her number and leaving him in an anxious state as the hours and days pass without his phone ringing.

Easier With Practice is often insightful and touching in its view of people unwilling or incapable of engaging with the real world who take solace in fantasy relationships, but the film often feels frustratingly underdeveloped. This is a slight narrative on which to hang a feature and Alvarez often lets his film drift when Davy and Nicole aren't in conversation. There are a couple of sharp individual scenes here, with Alvarez drawing some tension from an awkward game of Truth or Dare, but a number of scenes seem to lack a sense of purpose or definition. The director does show glimpses of an interesting visual sense, though, and his compositions are consistently well thought-out, but his efforts are not complemented by David Rush Morrison's rather drab cinematography.

Fortunately, the whole picture gets a much-needed lift in its final quarter with a clever climax. The scene in which Davy finally gets to meet Nicole gives the narrative a sly twist and reaffirms Alvarez's skill at handling moments of uncomfortable intimacy, with both performers giving affectingly nervous turns. Easier with Practice ends as a smart and surprisingly absorbing study of lonely souls and of the way people afraid of being hurt create and reinforce barriers with those around them. The film has its misjudgements and its longueurs, but there is conviction and talent on display here, and a real attempt to engage with some intriguing notions of what a relationship should be. Such qualities are too rare to be easily dismissed.