Film Review: Losing ControlClumsy, awkward, unfunny indie rom-com about a grad-student scientist trying to quantify whether or not she's really in love.
It's not often one can say on a low-budget independent film that a star is born, but it happens here, with this feature debut by scientist-turned-filmmaker Valerie Weiss. However, that star happens to be the film's editor, Robin Katz—who, as it happens, isn't a newcomer at all but a veteran editor with film and TV credits stretching to the 1980s and including episodes of "NYPD Blue," "Lipstick Jungle" and other shows. So, yes, the editing is top-notch. Boy, is this a nicely edited film. Yes, sir, you just can't fault that editing. Nope. Pretty good. Editing.
As for the rest of this drearily shot, awkwardly directed, nonsensibly written, inconsistently acted and not even particularly well-costumed romantic comedy—well, I feel like I've just beaten a puppy with a shovel just for pointing these things out. Even if that puppy were very sick and in pain, there are implements other than shovels for putting it down. Then again, if the puppy's rabid and capable of inflicting great aesthetic and cinematic pain, you just have to grab what's handy.
The story of a Harvard grad student doing genetic-disease research—and written and directed by what the notes describe as a Harvard Ph.D. in biophysics, with dual Princeton degrees in molecular biology and theatre—Losing Control begins well with an eye-catching opening flashback showing the young heroine combining play with physical daring and a precocious understanding of centrifugal force. From there we immediately cut to a horribly twee theme song over a timeline credits sequence that goes straight for a gross poop joke in the middle of it, since, you know, couples on dates at a romantic comedy love nothing more than cow defecation to set the mood.
Which brings us to the present day, as Samantha (Miranda Kent) bemoans the fact she's been spending four years trying to replicate an experiment that can block certain genetic maladies by eliminating the male chromosome during fertility and only allowing the females to spawn. That's right—it's a rom-com about eugenics that is itself so blind to that jaw-dropping fact that not a single person ever brings up this moral and ethical landmine even when (not giving a spoiler here) Samantha’s research, unbeknownst to her, gets put to uses other than she'd envisioned. To paraphrase the cartoon super-spy Archer, "Yes, 'Charles Benedict Davenport.' What? You don't know the father of American eugenics? Geez, read a book sometime!"
Be that as it may, the pretty-but-plain Samantha rejects the marriage proposal of her live-in boyfriend of five years, Ben (Reid Scott of "My Boys” and "The Big C"). Hurt, he goes off to study in China, alongside a smitten fellow student, Trudy (Bitsie Tulloch), while Samantha takes sleep-around-for-your-own-good advice of her friend Leslie (Kathleen Robertson), a model-gorgeous lawyer with her own high-rise office who can have any man she wants—i.e., the kind of blatantly artificial construct that only a Samantha-type writer-director would envision as a wish-fulfillment best friend. Samantha, true to her nature, makes her hunt for Mr. Right an experiment, creating a grid of variables she can fill in.
In distractingly time-compressed fashion—things seem to happen over the course of three or four days that should take weeks, with China seemingly a two-hour plane ride away—Samantha has encounters with a chauvinistic lawyer (Steve Howey), a polyamorous couple (Neil Hopkins and Alanna Ubach), a performance artist (Theo Alexander) and, most disgustingly, a tantric-sex trainer (Sam Ball) who lets loose a pent-up tsunami all over her lab. A conspiracy plot involving her faculty adviser (John Billingsley) doesn't come near suspending our disbelief that she'd continue failing at the same experiment for four years rather than begin a different project—putting her life and her degree on hold and spending God-knows-how-much money for Harvard when her parents can only afford to live in a tacky retirement-home apartment. For a scientist, filmmaker Weiss doesn’t seem to understand that not all experiments succeed—that's why they're called "experiments"!
The movie shows no feel for comedy, which is particularly wince-inducing in would-be comedic bits like Samantha and Ben having a life-changing discussion in a cloakroom, and having to hand coats to people who come in. That clearly was meant to be a dry, comedy-of-manners routine, yet it's just leaden. As for the wardrobe, I don't know how long this 2010-copyrighted film's production lasted, or how fluctuating star Kent's weight might have been, but from scene to scene she can change from kind of fetching to matronly, and a good costume designer could have countered that.
Losing Control has been accepted into numerous film festivals, and one would be hardhearted not to wish this plucky love story luck. And I do. But I'm keeping a shovel close by.