Easier with Practice (Kyle Patrick Alvarez, 2009)
There is a lot about Easier with Practice to like; it feels like (and, really, it is) the kind of story that a stranger sitting next to you in the bar, with whom you've struck up a conversation because there's nothing better to do and the TV is turned to baseball yet again, tells you out of the blue in order to get it off his chest. That feeling carries through into the film realm very well, at least it does in this picture. The problem is that, as the story goes on, you get a very distinct feeling that perhaps the nice guy sitting next to you is maybe not quite as nice as he may have at first seemed. Now, it's entirely possible to paint this in a good light-he's being as honest as he can be about his feelings and reactions to the situation in which he finds himself, and any therapist worth his or her salt will tell you that you can't effectively process this sort of stuff without being entirely honest with yourself. On the other hand, when you show it to outsiders, to people who weren't there, the urge to whitewash things, to make yourself look better, is sometimes best followed. (That it might well have changed the ending of the story here is irrelevant.)
As we open, Davy Mitchell (ATM's Brian Geraghty), a budding novelist, is on media's most depressing book tour with his brother Sean (Pulse's Kel O'Neill). They've financed the entire thing themselves, they're halfway across the country, they're near-broke, and they're not selling anything out of that trunkful of books. (As a side note, the movie is based on a GQ article by Davy Rothbart, who had a version of this story actually happen to him while he was touring Found exactly like this. I found that bit the most believable part of the story, for those of you reading this somewhere where the book title is a link to my review of Found.) One night, in a generic, nameless motel, he gets a call from breathy-voiced Nicole (Black Rock's Katie Aselton). They have phone sex, which eventually develops into a relationship. Nicole refuses to meet Davy in the flesh, which leads to the question-can you have a relationship with someone you have never seen?
One of the movie's problems is that that question has been a kind of ridiculous one since, oh, two or three years after the world wide web went global (for those of you too young to remember, that happened in 1993). Which is not to say it can't still be asked-there is a movie that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this very morning that deals with the exact same question (Jan. 16, 2014, and Her, for the record). And maybe Alvarez, turning in his first feature, thought the story resonated more because it asks the same question with older tech (the relationship is carried on entirely by phone). That is important given an hour and a half long movie based on a four-page magazine article, because you've got to have something to fill up all that time before you get to the Big Twist(TM). Once you get past the gimmick and just see it as a relationship drama, things start cruising pretty smoothly again, but...then there's that Big Twist(TM). And when you put something like that out there, whether you filmed the truth or not, you're making a fictional piece based on a true story, and when you are doing that, it's worth considering that perhaps the true ending wasn't the right one. Your mileage may certainly vary, but to me, it wasn't, especially with the way Alvarez lensed that whole sequence-it's obvious to me that even he wanted the ending we didn't get. Did he feel constrained by the subject matter? That's the only explanation I can come up with.
Balancing this out are some very good performances. Geraghty reminds us why we like him in military-movie roles, if you soured on him after watching ATM. O'Neill makes a good comic foil, and even the minor parts are generally well-cast. If only Alvarez had had someone to slap some sense into him about that last sequence... ** 1/2