A couple have a wild weekend away in Pretty Problems, Kestrin Pantera’s laugh-out-loud comedy premiering at SXSW.
Written by Michael Tennant, who also co-stars, it’s a witty look at wealth, privilege and relationships over a couple of days of hedonism in wine country.
Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) is as bored with her marriage to Jack (Tennant) as she is working in a boutique — until Cat Flax (JJ Nolan) swoops into the store, showering her with flattery and conspicuous displays of wealth. The pair bond over a bottle of wine, and Lindsay arrives home flushed with excitement about her rich new friend. Jack reluctantly agrees to accept Cat’s invitation for a weekend away, and they jump into a car and drive into another world: of butlers, gift bags, massages and astronomically expensive wine their hosts forget even buying.
Cat’s married to Matt Flax (Graham Outerbridge), a self-made billionaire who’s joined at the hip to his best friend Kerry (Alex Klein), a trust-fund kid who’s dating Carrie (Charlotte Ubben). While Lindsay sees an opportunity to live a different life, Jack is suspicious and uncomfortably out of place, especially as he’s now a door-to-door salesman, having lost his job as a lawyer. Their relationship is tested as they go from dinners to wine tastings to murder-mystery parties, where it turns out Lindsay has a connection to a member of staff.
There’s a suggestion of a conspiracy, something Jack addresses head-on when he half-jokingly wonders if the weekend will be a “Purge” thing, or a sex thing. But this is propelled more by characters and comedy than mystery. There’s a flavor of Absolutely Fabulous and Schitt’s Creek to the farcical extravagance on display. Nolan is hilarious as the faddish, flamboyant host who makes lavish promises she’s unlikely to keep — all the funnier for being a recognizable, believable character. She also reeks of boredom and dissatisfaction: There’s no suggestion that money is the answer, even if we share in some of Lindsay’s envy and enjoyment of their lavish lifestyle. Outerbridge and Klein are perfectly cast as jocky bros, while Ubben is an excellent comedy drunk — somewhere between Joanna Lumley’s Patsy Stone and Billie Lourd’s Gigi from Booksmart.
No line is wasted in this sharp script. Detailed comical asides range from “I was a trainer at Sea World, and I quit that when it stopped being cool,” to “Titty Bingo?”, uttered expectantly by a man answering the door when Jack is doing his sales rounds. Sex comes up a lot, underlining the irony that Jack and Lindsay’s love life is ailing.
Director Pantera and her female-led team have delivered a film that explores the uncomfortable truths in relationships, be they marriages or new friendships — and it’s also a tremendous amount of fun. This is a party you want to go to, to live vicariously, laugh a lot, and then be glad to go home to your own life.
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