The LaBute Problem: Some Girl(s) 

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Some Girl(s)
Directed by Daisy von Scherler

Watching Neil LaBute’s 2006 play, or its screen adaptation, you could imagine the writer-director asking himself: what if I skipped all that in-between stuff and just wrote a series of confrontations? Staged as consecutive hotel-room scenes, Some Girl(s) follows an about-to-marry writer who’s looking up old girlfriends across the country as part of an ill-defined personal project to make amends or “check in.” The professed obliviousness of the dude (played by Adam Brody) and the ready-made characterization of the gallery of five women render the film partly a dull structural exercise (theme and repetitions, like a Collateral of exes), and partly a buffet of warmed-over schadenfreude.

So why would you watch it? The question keeps coming up with LaBute, a practiced engineer of spite and cynicism (even among your friends and neighbors!), which some folk(s) still seem to eat up. In the case of the cad in the new film—directed by Daisy von Scherler (of Party Girl fame) from LaBute’s own screenplay—he gets hung out to dry by women angry over getting insulted, groped whilst underage, but most often abandoned. Lest that sound like a you-go-girl vent session, his performance of I-had-no-idea ignorance—and Brody never really figures out how much to sell the guy’s bullshit—is regularly ornamented with smugly dropped slights along the way that tar the women as vain, stupid, delusional.

One reason to watch is the actresses’ attempts to make something of LaBute’s overdetermined, daintily stylized exchanges, which invariably leave them with some final impossible beat to incorporate: Kristen Bell laying into her lines until slamming into the wall of a final deck-clearing twist involving her ex’s true motives; Emily Watson putting top-spin on her dialogue as an Older Woman, before having to play out an insipid trick; or Zoe Kazan, the underage victim all grown up, summoning up some Oleanna frisson circa 1992. (LaBute still carries the whiff of an earlier age of PC-tweaking naughtiness; cf. also that very-90s parentheses in the title.)

It ends up feeling like lazy screenwriting, but the hook of “What if you got to call out your ex on all his stupid shit?” is still there. It’s too ridiculous to be taken as much more than a mean-spirited, rabble-rousing comedy, but in Brody’s perverse tour, LaBute does get at the very American rites of fakey penitence (which only dissipates the possible self-critique of making the character a writer). If only he could challenge himself to rise above the easy moralism and spiteful pandering which feels like nothing so much as a brand.

Opens June 28

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