Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sort-of streaming tip: Ishai Setton & Jim Beggarly's ensemble-com, THE KITCHEN

When you love an independent filmmaker's work as much as TrustMovies did THE BIG BAD SWIM -- the first full-length feature from director Ishai Setton and writer Daniel Schechter, you approach any later of their work with some trepidation. Sure enough, nothing has quite lived up to the enormous achievement of that initial movie. New to Netflix streaming, however, and worth a watch for its fast pace, sometimes smart dialog and mostly excellent performances, even if it doesn't hold a candle to "Swim," THE KITCHEN is the latest rom-com ensemble work form Mr. Setton, this time featuring with a screenplay by Jim Beggarly, who last year gave us the smarter and better Free Samples.

Mr. Setton, shown at left, does seem to favor ensemble casts -- Kitchen's is a lot larger than that of Swim -- and he handles them pretty well. In the latter movie, his excellent cast ranged over several decades in age. The Kitchen's array of young people sticks mostly to the 20s to 30 age range, and thus the interests and experience of these near-kids are much more limited. The focus here often seems more difficult for Setton and Beggarly to grasp firmly enough. In Beggarly's Free Samples, the focus was always on Jess Weixler (who also appeared in Swim), an actress who can easily keep that focus. In this latest movie, this is more difficult because the film-making team keeps shifting from person to person and back again, with a cast that includes at least a dozen, would-be important characters, all vying for your interest and time in a movie that lasts but 78 minutes.

The most important character here is Jennifer, played by Laura Prepon (above, left, and below, right), whose birthday it is today, with a big party organized for the occasion, even though she has just broken up with her boyfriend of two or three years (Bryan Greenberg, above, right) because he's been cheating on her. Just how and with whom becomes more and more apparent as the party movies along.

Jennifer's sister Penny (Dreama Walker, above, left, and below, right) has her own surprise up her sleeve (or under her midriff), and she in turn is lusted after by a young man called Kenny (Tate Ellington). Kenny & Penny: awww, that's so sweet!

Setton and Beggarly have told their tale in pretty-close-to-real-time fashion, which makes things move quickly. We don't grow bored, that's for certain. The movie takes place all in the same location, too: the kitchen and its immediate environs of the house where some of these folk live and in which the party is now going on.

But as characters come and go, babble and fight, offer tidbits of exposition that sometimes go places, sometimes not, we begin to want a little more. (Shown above are Pepper Binkley, left, and Amber Stevens, right.)

Jennifer is about to strike out on her own and open a new art gallery, which plays into things. But all the characters soon begin to seem awfully mindless and shallow -- even Jennifer, about whom we can't help but wonder what kind of a relationship she and her oh-so-obvious cad of a boyfriend had if she suspected nothing untoward was going on.

In the very large cast, lots of actors register pleasantly. I was particularly taken with Stan, the party planner (Matt Bush, above, left) and friend-of-a-friend named Nikki (Jillian Clare), being kissed against the kitchen shelving, below.

If the trials and tribulations of twenty-somethings jerk your chain, by all means give this little movie a watch. You can view it now on Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video, and via DVD.

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