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Curiously refreshing

By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 21, 2007

For a tongue-in-cheek and slyly insightful look at the conflict between innocence and desire, curiosity and taboo, bad taste and kitsch genius, I’d recommend Anna Biller’s VIVA (2007; Brattle March 24 at 9:15 pm, with Biller). She writes, directs, and stars in this sui generis pastiche of a John Waters/Frank Tashlin/Douglas Sirk/David Lynch parodic morality tale; she even designed the outrageous, candy-colored sets and costumes. Her Barbi is a buxom, vacant-eyed, heavily made-up housewife in ’70s LA who’s not quite aware enough to realize that she’s bored and exploited. She’s lost her job as a secretary after responding poorly to sexual harassment, and when her workaholic, Tab Hunter–like hubby (Viva wavers in period style and sensibility from the ’50s to the ’70s) storms out after a spat, she decides to seek “adventures” with her mercenary next-door neighbor, Sheila. A grandmotherly madam obliges them in Belle du jour fashion, sending them off to meet clients attuned to their needs. For Sheila, now “Candy,” that means codgers willing to provide her with a girl’s best friend; for Barbi, reborn as “Viva,” that means someone “kind and sensitive” — not easy to find among the gloriously realized ’70s male grotesques in Biller’s sweetly ruthless satire.

After such indulgence in the hidden, forbidden, and depraved, only punishment can follow. Set in Slacker capital Austin, Kevin Ford’s WHEN IS TOMORROW? (2007; Brattle March 24 at 2:30 pm, with Ford and producer/actress Angela Bettis) offers some 24 hours in the relationship between Jake (Ford), who’s far too old to act as if he were 24, and Ron (Eddie Steeples), his old friend from New York who has come to attend Jake’s supposed wedding. Ron, who has improbably made his fortune as a poet, now wants to put all his youthful misbehavior behind him. Jake, of course, wants to suck his successful pal back into his cesspool of puerile indulgence, procrastination, and co-dependent self-destructiveness. This means as much punishment for us as for the characters, as Jake’s wheedling quickly loses its charm and Ford pads his skimpy fable with one-on-one basketball, a ping-pong game, lots of repetitious dialogue, and a bad party before answering the title question with the expected platitude.

The punishments in Tomorrow pale before those in Angela Bettis’s ROMAN (2006; Brattle Theatre March 25 at 8 pm). Played by filmmaker Lucky McKee (who directed May, in which Bettis starred), the near-catatonic Roman works as a welder and spends his spare time drinking beer and staring out his window at his fetching neighbor. One day the neighbor accosts Roman and a halting romance starts, but since Roman has the savoir faire of Lennie in Of Mice and Men, it ends badly. Or maybe not so badly, depending on your feelings about necrophilia. When it comes to death obsession, however, Roman meets his match in a new neighbor, Eva. Creepy, if overlong and a bit corny (the women’s dialogue in particular can be cringe-inducing), Roman benefits most from the subdued but intense performance of McKee. Both he and Bettis will present at the screening.

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