Saturday, December 28, 2013

Good, raucous fun (for awhile) -- Preston & Overbey's femme-fest, THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID

The new movie, THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID, directed by crack actress Carrie Preston and written (her first) by another actress, Kellie Overbey, gets off to a great start with some increasingly funny, ribald dialog from the mouths of a couple of excellent performers, Anne Heche and Marcia Debonis, soon to be joined by a third, the very funny and here quite piquant, Alia Shawkat. As the opening credits roll, we see a montage of NYC women, coupled to the dialog between Heche and Debonis. The talk is crass, very funny and very sexual. And the visuals are all women, all the time. The men, when they appear, are seen from the rear, in slight or partial profile, or if frontal, then very piecemeal.

This directorial touch makes its point lightly and rather charmingly, without hammering it home: We're in for a chick flick of sorts, so hang on. We do, but the results overall prove a little less than we expected, considering the film's first half hour, which is both written and directed with smarts and style, as it sets up the current situation, while giving us some history of the two women. Heche (rough, gruff and ready) is helping Debonis (a good-hearted, plus-sized sweetie) prepare for an important date. Ms Preston (shown at right) directs with energy and pizzazz and the first big scene, set inside a coffee/latte haven, is terrific -- cleverly paced and wittily, foul-mouthedly written by Ms Overbey (shown below).

When Heche's back is momentarily turned, Debonis, in her standard "helper" mode, picks up a sad and sobbing young woman (Shawkat) with man trouble. Shawkat's real affliction, however, is something else entirely, which leads to some over-the-top, funny (but not quite funny enough) further business. What cast and crew here seem to be going for is a modern-day, all-women, screwball comedy, with a higher sex quotient than we're used to seeing/hearing. For a time this work pretty well, but once the complications and coincidences start piling up, the humor doesn't quite reach the same level, and the seams start to show.

Too bad, because the actresses -- both leads and supporting players -- are talented and very game (that's Heche, below left; Debonis, below right; and Shawkat above), but the screenplay seems to run down even as it proceeds. The finale, however, with five femmes in a bar, sitting around a table talking, manages to be sweet and, yes, a little moving, considering all that's come before.

That's What She Said, a Phase 4 film release running just 84 minutes, is available to stream now on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, and to rent or purchase on DVD.

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