The cinematic equivalent of a theatrical evening of one-act plays, Michael Dunaway’s narrative feature debut suffers from the familiar syndrome of the whole being less than the sum of the parts. This omnibus film in which its stories are told in intertwined rather than successive fashion features some moving and amusing moments, but mostly feels like an acting exercise for its ensemble including several familiar faces. 6 Love Stories, which recently received its world premiere at the Portland Film Festival, is probably more suited for cable play than theatrical distribution.
Scripted by the director with Chris White and partly based on short plays by several other writers, the Los Angeles-set film presents a series of brief, dialogue-heavy tales that fail to rise above the level of intriguing vignette. In the most broadly comic segment, an unctuous academic (Stephen Tobolowsky) who’s written books critical of the humorist Will Rogers trades barbs with a protective tour guide (Beth Grant) at the Will Rogers State Historic Park. That the tense encounter is destined to end happily isn’t hard to predict, but the familiar-feeling material is expertly delivered by the two veteran actors.
The cast of familiar faces helps enliven these mildly diverting tales.
The best segment is also the most serious. It involves a man who angrily confronts his wife after discovering her in their bed with someone else. The superb performances by Matthew Lillard and Carrie Preston vividly convey the bitter aftermath of the adultery, even if the situation ultimately feels too quickly and tidily resolved.
Ross Partridge and Ashley Williams are highly appealing as two singles who meet at a pool party. He’s a relaxed rake whose idea of breaking the ice is pointing to another guest and saying, “That guy has Kurt Cobain’s pancreas.” She’s uptight and wants to leave, but has to wait for her sister, who’s having a good time. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for her to warm up to the stranger’s sardonic personality.
Director Dunaway co-stars with Alicia Witt in a segment in which they play a divorced couple who reconnect emotionally and physically after she stops by his apartment to discuss issues relating to their young daughter. Although the filmmaker’s acting inexperience is palpable, Witt makes the scene work thanks to her sensitive portrayal of a woman deeply conflicted about her ex.
Far less successful are segments involving the stage manager (Jennifer Lafleur) of a speaking event who is unexpectedly reunited with an ex-girlfriend (Ogy Durham) sporting new, surgically enhanced breasts; and another reunion, this time between a successful female studio executive (Jamie Anne Allman) and her ex-boyfriend (Marshall Allman) still struggling to make it in the business.
That the film features as many well-known names as it does is no doubt partly attributable to its director being Paste Magazine’s movie section editor as well as the Sarasota Film Festival’s creative director, and producer Antonia Bogdanovich being the daughter of famed director Peter, who shows up in a cameo as an event speaker with a cane who keeps referring to his “big stick.”
But while its promotional materials hyperbolically describe it as “an indie Love Actually for our time, 6 Love Stories is an affable but distinctly minor affair. Running a fleet 80 minutes, the film never actually wears out its welcome. But there’s precious little that will stick in your mind afterwards.
Venue: Portland Film Festival
Production: Gasoline Films, Poitier & Dunaway Motion Pictures, Station 8 Films, Twin Pilot Films
Cast: Ashley Williams, Ross Partridge, Jamie Anne Allman, Marshall Allman, Matthew Lillard, Carrie Preston, Ogy Durham, Jennifer Lafleur, Stephen Tobolowsky, Beth Grant, Michael Dunaway, Alicia Witt
Director: Michael Dunaway
Screenwriters: Michael Dunaway, Jim Christy
Producer: Antonia Bogdanovich
Executive producers: Tim Basham, David Claassen, Gates Dunaway, Darin Dusan, Gordon Hight, Michael Milford, Jeffrey Poitier, Hayley Gigi Polak, Sonia Dhalla Singh, Neal Singh, Shaun Singh, Jimmy Wilson
Director of photography: Elle Schenider
Production designers: Antonia Bogdanovich, Elana Farley, Rozi Hersey, Carine Teoh
Editor: Sean Valla
Costume designer: Rozi Hersey
Composers: Gingger Shankar, William Stranbro
Not rated, 80 minutes