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Crossroads Review: Pretty Ugly People

April 4, 2008

– Revised on August 9, 2008 after second viewing as part of the Oxford Film Festival summer series.

Pretty Ugly People is a comedy with heart. Starring Missy Pyle as Lucy, the film is about a woman who having suffered from being the “heavy” friend in college, reunites with her old buddies for a long weekend. After glamorizing her friends for years, she is in for a surprise when she discovers that they all have their less than joyful moments. Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls, Pumpkin, etc) is the caring friend that rounds up the less supportive crew who are too busy in their own lives to want to have to take time out for Lucy.

The premise of the film rests on this idea that Lucy, having never asked any of them for anything before, needs them “before her time is up.” An ambiguous phone call with McCarthy’s character, Becky, leads her to assume that Lucy is dying and they must go no matter what. I won’t give away whether she is or not, but let’s just say, the crew is not so happy when they arrive and Lucy has plans for them to go on a 4 day hike through the wilderness.

The plot is fairly simple and the reunion type film has been done many times before (The Big Chill, etc), yet the film remains fresh with some great comedy from the ensemble cast. Still, the film has a good message and doesn’t just make fun of the heavy girl, but actually shows that we all have our hang ups, whether it is our looks, or sexual identity, our race, our position in society. Due to some pretty strong direction from Taylor, the film never gets heavy handed even though it takes on some pretty tough subjects.

The first time I saw the film, I had some trouble with the beginning and end. When I first saw the animation that opens the film, I didn’t like it, but after seeing the entire film and then watching it again, I actually grew to really like the transition as it gave a quick summary of Lucy’s “snapshot” memories of some perfect past that was never very real. I had originally upon seeing the film in April, said that since the characters are bitchy and not real happy to support her in the beginning, it doesn’t help that they remain bitchy and not real happy to support her throughout. Why is she surprised by this? Why are these people her friends? Oh because, we all have those college friends, don’t we? The ones that you promise to remain in touch forever but as your lives go down separate paths, it gets harder and harder to remember to reach out. In fact, one of the lines in the film hits the nail on the head about the most obnoxious character, “We all have our George’s don’t we?”

But upon seeing it a second time, I realized, that is the point, isn’t it? That we hold up these ideal moments that were never really that idyllic as the impossible dream of youth. The time when things were easier, better, happier. But that is what Lucy has to learn. That was never the case. Lucy holds her friends up on a pedestal as these symbols of happiness, but they are just human like the rest of us.

You can connect with this movie, because we all have those friends throughout life that we can be ourselves around even when we are our less than perfect selves. Those are the friends that, maybe it takes a while to get reacquainted, but once you do it is like you are right back in the moment that bonded you in the first place. The beginning does work in the context of the film to help you understand that her idealized version of her college friends and who they are today maybe are not so different, it is she that is waking up.

The middle of the film, when they are in the wilderness is just perfect. Some great acting that is shot in a beautiful location in the hills of Montana is all you need. What Taylor does is surprise you over and  over with rich development of the characters. They are not characterizations of high school friends, they are fleshed out and complex and so much more real the way he wrote them.

And then the end happens. When I first saw it, I thought it a complete curveball that maybe was a little too over the top but definitely a strong plot point in order to create a change in these characters. I still find something a little off rhythm in this life and death moment scene they share, but I can not put my finger on it. Still, it is necessary for the film because it is not just Lucy that needs to be awakened. They all need a reminder to appreciate life once again, to find beauty and joy in the world. Something they all seem to have forgotten.

The ensemble cast works beautifully together. Several of them had already worked in Taylor’s earlier short film,  Chicken Party. Of course, Missi Pyle as Lucy and Melissa McCarthy as Becky are wonderful. However, Mary (Octavia Spencer) as Ray’s (Phill Lewis) wife, continues to stun me with her talent. She really is one of those naturally funny people that just make you absolutely pay attention when she is on screen. Trevor (Jack Noseworthy) is the naturally sweet friend that knew of Lucy’s plan from the beginning so has less of a freak out than most. But, as much as crush on Noseworthy, his character was the hardest to connect with for me because he is so gallant that he almost feels unreal (although it would be nice if more were like him!).

Then there is Larry Sullivan who plays Austin, the one that everyone throws pronouns at in determining his “relationship “status. (Like our George’s, we all have our Austin’s too). He is lovely to look at and I tend to forget to pay attention as a critic when he is on screen. Ahh, a girl’s weakness is a charming smile. He and Pyle are starring again together in the upcoming Miss  Nobody (currently in post production).

Then there is Phill Lewis. If you don’t know Phill Lewis, than you don’t have a kid. Because for some of us mom’s who have seen every episode of the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, we know Lewis as Mr. Moseby, the woefully overstressed hotel concierge. It was refreshing to see him in such a different role as an up and coming political official that struggles with his identity as an African American and what his role is as a representative of all people, and yet, staying true to himself.

Then there is George. Josh Hopkins (Swing Town, Chicken Party) plays an angry man struggling with who he is outside of his father’s shadow. What can I say about the character George? I know this is strange since he is the meanest character, but I really liked him the most out of the entire cast. He has this moment after their life changing scene with the bus driver that just in Hopkin’s facial expression, shows how much his character has grown over the film. It is a great moment. And it is true about this film, we all have our George’s, and we love them for exactly who they are, even when they haven’t quite learned to do the same.

Although a small role, it was fun to see William  Sanderson as the bus driver. Any Bob Newhart fans would recognize him as the other brother Daryl, and sci-fi nerds like me would remember him as J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner. Then there is the scene stealing Allison Janney. A must see if for no other reason than her hysterical bit.

I highly recommend that once this film gets out on the festival circuit, try to find a way to see it. One of my favorites at a fest so far this year.

Note: Since I first wrote the review, the film has gone on to win awards at several festivals throughout the country and continues to pick up speed. You can follow its progress at their website. – Now if someone would just get it into theaters and then get it on DVD so I can buy it and watch it again!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Stan permalink
    December 17, 2008 10:22 pm

    We had the chance to screen this film about a year ago, when Tate was in Austin. What an amazing work. We would just like to know when it will be released on dvd. This is a film that I would purchase as a gift for friends, as it has such an endearing message.


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