Film Reviews

CUPIDITY

By • May 2nd, 2004 •

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Running time: 83 minutes

Director John Gallagher’s CUPIDITY won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at last year’s New York Independent Film Festival. Based on a story that was improvised by him and the cast, this docucomedy concerns a garbage man named James (James Gilmartin) who is encouraged by his sister to join a dating service after being dumped by his girlfriend. This becomes an odyssey of dates, which all seem to come out of a funhouse of incompatibility.

The film is wall to wall with talented new faces, who are exactly the type one would hope the festival would shine its light on. The film itself has the effect of a showcase for actors, and at the helm is Gilmartin, who won Best Actor for his performance at the Queens International Film Festival. He has appealing charisma, personality, and good comic timing as he carries us through the film. And his good looks shouldn’t be held against him (a “female critic” at the festival said she was too shy to approach him). Indeed, he does have a strong leading man sensibility, and demonstrates a true understanding of what an actor must bring to the role of the male lead in a romantic comedy: a man who has a personal sense of dignity and charm, while having the ability to laugh at himself. We feel sorry for the guy, while having little question that he’s of a strong enough personal character to find his way through the loneliest moments. Someone to laugh with, not at, James draws us in, and we are thoroughly entertained by him. And I like that even though he’s the character who’s supposed to have our sympathy, he’s still prone to an occasional ugly bout of anger, and he comes on a little too strong for one date (Heidi Kristoffer) when he sees a chance to hop in the sack.

Each date serves as a comedic set piece. One after the other, they simultaneously offer James different, and at times bizarre, obstacles to finding the right woman. Each actress gives the audience something fresh, interesting, and funny to watch, as when one date (Roxanne Racitano) tries to get her dog to sit by yelling commands at it from her cell phone through a speaker phone at home. Or when another (Stephanye Dussud) refers to James as “one of those American guys who only speaks English,” which is a particularly poignant comment in New York, where the film takes place (and yes, the lady in question is a French-speaker). One actress, Shae Kennedy, does a fabulous job of playing two characters who are sisters. Although she’s not playing opposite herself in the same scene, I thought her work was just as praise-worthy as Cate Blanchett’s in “Coffee and Cigarettes”.

Of these dates, James puts up with a stalker played by Michele Coniglio, whose performance won Best Actress at the same NYIIFV Festival last year. What I liked most about her character was that we are shown her own small side-story, which is not at all pertinent to the plot of the film, but adds a touching and intriguing layer of interest.
The film could have covered less of the entire dating spectrum, allowing for a deeper narrative thread between the breakup, journey, and resolution of James and his girlfriend played by Bethany Emerson; who is shown mainly in the film’s periphery. Although they are entertaining, the film shows too many dates; some of which, despite the good performances, are redundant, and a couple that are too far-fetched. And two of the most entertaining characters, James’s best friend played by Steve Stanulis, and Kevin Hersh, who plays a character who is just plain creepy, give wonderful performances deserving of more screen time.

There would have been greater resonance if these characters were a more constant presence in a more nuanced narrative, and therefore existed more organically as extensions of the film’s central story instead of feeling episodic. However, I do remember another critic speaking of the importance of reviewing the film you have seen, not the one you would have liked to have seen. That said, CUPIDITY is a funny and creative show-piece for the many actors involved, who saturate the film with good performances. They are as of yet unknown, but remember that Gallagher put Amanda Peet, Gretchen Mol, John Leguizamo, and Matthew Lillard in their first films.
This seemed to me like a grass-roots-level creative experience. Gallagher is a proven director whose previous films have included award-winning indies like BLUE MOON with Ben Gazzara, Rita Moreno, and Zach Braff; and THE DELI with Mike Starr, Matt Keeslar, Gretchen Mol, Ice T, Debi Mazar, Jerry Stiller, Chris Noth, Iman, and Michael Imperioli. Now imagine wanting to shoot a movie with no stars and no script. It’s digital video instead of film, and there is little coverage on screen, similar to the films of Kevin Smith. With CUPIDITY, Gallagher presents an entertaining and successful experiment in romantic comedy that deserves the attention of audiences who are looking for love, laughs and the early work of tomorrow’s accomplished actors.


Cast:
James: James Gilmartin
Bethany: Bethany Emerson
Michelle: Michele Coniglio
Stevie: Steve Stanulis
Glen: Glen Howard
Dr. Cupid: Jared Miller
Desiree: Desiree Maumus
Curtis: Curtis Hannum
Meredith: Meredith Ross

Credits:
Directed by John Gallagher
Improvised by The Director and Cast
Story by John Gallagher
Producers John Gallagher
Alexandria Hunter
Michael Reichman

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