Sunday, November 13, 2011

James Westby's back--and his RID OF ME should make an indie star of Katie O'Grady

It's probably not such a hot idea to marry a guy (or girl) without first meeting his/her very good friends, as our heroine learns to her dismay in RID OF ME, the very funny, very odd, very "personal" indie from James Westby, the Portland (Oregon) based filmmaker who earlier gave us Film Geek and The Auteur. A road-trip movie that starts on the road but the destination of which is more like identity and self-image, the film tracks the journey of its heroine, Meris, from a mousy, immature girl involved in a silly, messy marriage into something that slowly -- and with a number of bizarre steps along the way -- approaches autonomy.

This is the first time writer/director/editor Westby (shown at right) has concentrated on a female protagonist (and so thoroughly, at that), and in the character of Meris Canfield and the person of actress (and co-producer with Westby) Katie O'Grady (below), he has found a combination that hits pay dirt. This is the kind of performance from which indie stars are born. It is also the kind of movie, bizarre in so many ways but consistently riveting and believable despite a bunch of initial misgivings -- that both its lead character and the audience may have -- that one wonders at its provenance.

According to the press material, the idea sprang from painful memories Mr. Westby had of past relationships: How much he hated his ex's friends when he first met them. So he has simply transferred all this onto his female character, and it works, perhaps even better than it might on a male, since, in this society, we expect males to have more self-confidence.

Ms O'Grady exhibits not a trace of confidence. She is so initially forlorn and unsure that, at times you want to rush up and onto the screen to help her out. I notice that in all the press photos, the actress is a gorgeous blond (check out her IMDB photo), but here she's transformed herself into a mousy brownette with a sweet but hardly pre-possessing face (at times she looks quite like a younger Maggie Gyllenhaal). Once she is tossed amidst her new husband's old best friends (the gals are below, the boys above), she seems destined for oblivion -- and fast.

What happens to her (you'll get a preview of this from the movie's initial scene -- a humdinger set in the aisles of a supermarket) is strange and wonderful and makes full use of today's social/sexual mores, as seen and experienced a young woman at the bottom of the barrel determined to somehow get something good out of life.

Meris' journey involves a local candy shop in which her two co-workers are night-and-day delights -- played by two terrific actresses: Orianna Herrman (above, left) and Ritah Parrish -- and a number of very odd gentlemen who cross her path. The humor here always bubbles up from character (Westby is particularly good at this), so that little of sitcom clings to his film. And the film features perhaps the single worst -- and I mean gloriously horrible -- example of karaoke, below, ever committed to video.

Other critics have referred to the movie as a black comedy, but I wouldn't really call it that. For all the sex and sin and use of menstrual blood on display, it's heart is oddly pure and dear. You root for Meris and her friends, even as you realize that they are behaving rather badly. Behavior can change, character maybe not. In any case, black comedy is based on a view of the world as dark. This world, for all the troubles that ensue, is really as bright and sweet as the contents of that charming candy shop.

Rid of Me, from Alcove Productions and Parkwood East Film Company, opens this Friday, November 18, in New York City at the Cinema Village and on November 25 in Chicago at the Facets Cinémathèque.  I hope we'll see it appearing elsewhere around the country. Maybe after word-of-mouth takes off...

The photos above come either from the film itself 
or courtesy of American photographer Mark Fisher.

No comments: