Thursday, November 29, 2012

Peter Askin's thoughtful ensemble drama, CERTAINTY, smartly probes that very thing

What a surprise and pleasure it is to see an American independent film that takes seriously (but not pretentiously) subjects such as marriage, love, fidelity, friendship and even The Catholic Church. The new rom-com-drama CERTAINTY, written by Mike O'Malley and directed by Peter Askin, is not a great movie, but it's a good enough one to deserve a shout-out: smart, thoughtful and caring about some things that will impact young people sooner or later, should they decide to connect in any kind of permanent way. Jumping off from (and coming back to, again and again) one of those pre-marriage counseling sessions, offered by the Catholic Church as requisite before the couple can be married in that church, the movie then flashes back and forth between events that have led to the point at which this couple now finds itself.

Refreshingly, for a change, the movie is not ironic. Though it treats its characters with humor and an often wry eye, it means what it says as it explores commitment of various kinds. The film it most reminded me of is the Italian movie Casomai by that wonderful filmmaker Alessandro D'Alatri, that also explored a quite modern Italian marriage "in" the Church. In Certainty, as in Casomai, the Church is personified via a priest  (played here by Giancarlo Esposito, above) who is trying, against some odds, to push his religion into becoming a more inclusive, less power-made and hypocritical entity.

This priest, however, is but one player in a large ensemble. The movie's two lead characters, Dom and Deb, played respectively by Tom Lipinski (above, left) and Adelaide Clemens (right), are the about-to-be-married couple -- he of little faith, she of a lot -- who, along with a number of other couples, are taking this crash course in "responsible marriage." We get to know quite a bit about Dom's family -- mom (Valerie Harper), sister (Tammy Blanchard) and deceased dad) and less about Deb's (her dad sings in a barbershop quartet), but the pair seems like quite the happy, made-for-each-other couple. Well, maybe...

Writer O'Malley, shown at right, has a knack for good dialog -- it's off-the-cuff and real, whether between family members or old friends -- and as he probes his people, we see that all is not well, just about everywhere we turn. Yet thanks to this dialog, things remain mostly believable and less than melodramatic. For awhile, at least. Eventually, the writer bites off more than his movie can chew, as he tries to unfold two other stories (sis' acting class and its threat to her marriage; Dom's best friend's angry, misogynistic attitude and his "lost" love that is suddenly found again). Better O'Malley had stuck more thoroughly with Dom and Deb and what was really eating them.

Still, his director, Peter Askin, shown at left, gets good performances from Blanchard, and from Bobby Moynihan as her husband; Will Rogers as Dom's best friend, Kevin; and Kristen Connolly (also seen this week in Ex-Girlfriends!) as Kevin's old flame. In fact, Askin (who, a few years back, gave us the fine documentary on Dalton Trumbo), gets good performances from his entire cast, top to bottom, and delivers a crisp, smart movie overall. Despite the movie's rush to tie up the least interes-ting loose ends, which does push the proceedings toward melodrama, it's still Dom and Deb we're most interested in. But I suspect that the screen-writer really wants to show us various kinds of relationships and how they work (or don't). He's just packed in a little more than his movie can properly handle.

Certainty (nice title!) opens this Friday, November 30, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and will most likely hit DVD and/or VOD sometime soon.

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