Film Review: Rid of Me

The beginning may have you wanting to bolt, but stick around, like its heroine does, and you’ll be surprised by and drawn into this director’s sick but quite relatable vision.

Hell hath no weirdness like a woman scorned. The very first scene of writer-director James Westby’s Rid of Me has his main character, Meris (Katie O’Grady), smearing the face of her romantic rival with blood from a particularly unmentionable source. The shocked viewer must then get his bearings together to properly go on this determinedly eccentric but often exhilarating cinematic ride, which sometimes makes Fatal Attraction feel like a total lark.

When you first see Meris and her newlywed husband, Mitch (John Keyser), there is an immediate sense of disconnect. He is that kind of All-American, hunky, baby-faced jock who usually seems to wind up with his blonde, voluptuous female counterpart. Skinny, withdrawn brunette Meris is anything but, and furthermore, is made to feel her life’s miscasting even more so when they move back to his Oregon hometown. There, his tight clique of old school friends heartily welcome him back to their fold while forming a united front against Meris, which merely exacerbates her shy awkwardness. She gets too drunk at a party, spills some confidential information which brings the evening to a screeching halt, later trails dog poo on Mitch’s buddy’s white carpet, burns a specially prepared dinner for everyone, and is a basic social disaster.   

In this weirdly alien suburban world, Meris manages to befriend a Muslim couple, the Masuds ((Adrienne Vogel and Melik Malkasian), but Mitch’s set do all they can to put her off them by maliciously hinting they could be terrorists. Things go from bad to worse for Meris, with Mitch finally dumping her for his old school flame who, yes, is blonde and voluptuous. Instead of sensibly leaving town, Meris infuriatingly decides to stay and gets a lowly job at a candy store where she meets Trudy (Orianna Herrman), who introduces her to a Goth/alternative-rock lifestyle. Before long, Meris is something of the town spectacle, drunk and disorderly with her new skuzzy buddies, a perpetual fly in the hitherto tidy ointment of Mitch’s existence.

If you’ve ever had one of those opposite-attracts relationships which went devastatingly wrong, or even felt the outsider in some excruciating social situation, you’ll be quite immersed by this ever-surprising dark comedy. Westby has stated that he made the film based on a past involvement, doomed by the fact that he hated his partner’s friends, and there’s a tonic feeling of oh-so-satisfying revenge here. That early, appalling act of Meris’ becomes comprehensible in the light of the incessant hostility shown her, and fearless O’Grady commits so totally to the character that you cringe for her even as you deeply sympathize. At times, she’s like a modern update of Katharine Hepburn’s Alice Adams, in her pathetic, discomfiting efforts to fit into a world which will have none of her.

Keyser is perfect in his bluff, bland way as the kind of popular “normal” Everyguy whose easygoing nature and bonhomie can easily mask a near-sociopathic streak of cruelty. His horrid pals are deftly sketched by a bunch of young, unfamiliar actors who revel in their meanness, and Westby’s use of eerily sterile lighting and set design in their scenes is both amusing and apropos. The director is also skilled in creating small, compelling universes full of funny, accurate observation, like the candy shop with its bored, catty employees (overseen by Theresa Russell, near-unrecognizable but good, as the self-important boss lady), and the gritty Oregon rock scene, such a contrast to its manicured suburbs which can hide seething hatred. O’Grady shares one very funny moment with Everclear lead singer Art Alexakis (also currently onscreen in The Other F Word), playing one of her many inappropriate hookups, who suddenly licks her face while clumsily courting her. It’s the kind of unexpected, alarming thing continually happening in this very special, very weird little film which makes it so entrancing.