Better Off Single (Benjamin Cox, 2016): USA
Reviewed by Phill Hunziker, as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016.
Charlie (Aaron Tveit), a NYC cynic, has been slowly losing his mind thanks to certain dissatisfaction with his relationship and job. His job is lavishly unfulfilling and his colleagues have adapted to the situation as he has. As he joins the higher-ups, he realizes just how cruel those S.O.B’s can be and quits in glorious fashion. Subsequently, he breaks up with his long-time girlfriend Angela (Abby Elliot) in front of her parents, whom he holds and expresses disdain for. Now unemployed and alone, he is free of an official connection with reality. The line between actuality and hallucination blurs significantly as his psyche and perception of life go through one hell of a transformation. Expectations for both people in relationships and single people are challenged and portrayed to be restrictive and, in the case of Charlie, destructive. Those expectations are matched by the sorrow of a serious breakup and the realization that he hates nearly everything about his life.
Rather than taking the traditional rom-com route, the non-linear narrative instead focuses on the complexities of life and the neuroticism that develops overtime as people deal with the either their stagnant lives or their unraveling. It’s giggle-inducing throughout with a few instances of explosive laughter. It makes its mark though with its attack on human nature, society-driven roles and the fragility of people’s egos and psyche.There are moments of pure lunacy mixed with enlightening scenes that question human nature and society in general.
The film’s effectiveness ultimately comes from the fact it bends the fourth wall just about to its breaking point. It possesses a deep cast that, in its own way, breaks the fourth wall at their introduction to the screen; provoking the viewer to immediately think “Hey, I know that actor!” . Kal Penn, Lewis Black, Jason Jones, Lauren Miller, Chris Elliot, and many more. The filmmaking aspects, such as cinematography and narrative flow, properly bend the fourth wall without being too on-the-nose. They are experimental without being visually or emotionally jarring. The editing is fierce and reliant on motif, playing out each hallucination to illicit both laughter and intellectual intrigue. The style exaggerates the characters’, specifically Charlie’s, complexities, neuroticism and evolving insanity.
An experimental indie rom-com done right, Stereotypically You is more deserving of a theatre run than those generic, big name rom-coms that, at their very best, will be mildly pleasing. Even though this film’s exposure will be minimum, those who watch it, at the very worst, will be mildly pleased. At best, they will fully appreciate this new take on a tired genre and the rising star that is Aaron Tveit.