Film Review: Dorfman in Love

Forced and unfunny portrait of a Young Woman as a Loser.

If you Googled “loser,” Deb Dorfman’s picture would probably pop up. A Jewish accountant and fulltime human doormat who slaves for her callous sleazeball of a yuppie brother (Jonathan Chase), she also cares for her cantankerous widower dad (Elliott Gould) while house- and cat-sitting the apartment of the dashing journalist, Jay (Johann Urb), she unrequitedly lusts for. Having temporarily moved from her cozy but stifling family home in the San Fernando Valley to the darker, edgier environs of Downtown Los Angeles, in five days she morphs into a different, less mousy and—damn it—attractive girl, with the help of a couple of bimbo gal pals of Jay’s and a romantically teasing Middle Eastern neighbor, Cookie (Haaz Sleiman).

After Tina Fey’s “30 Rock,” the bar for the ultra-self-deprecating heroine has been raised so high in terms of wit and insight that it’s a wonder anyone else even gives it a go, but of course that’s not going to stop anyone. Bradley Leong’s coy direction does nothing to improve Wendy Kout‘s low-grade, sitcom-y script, and the whole thing feels musty, like some 1980s draft optimistically dusted off to bore an entirely new audience. Sadly, Dorfman in Love’s main points of interest are the scenes set on Los Angeles’ metro system, which actually show that subways seem to be a real viability in car-crazed Lalaland.

“I thought she was in San Diego, helping her mother with her new tookus” and “Either you’re a fagelah lusting for my body or you’re a mensch” are examples of the kind of dialogue Gould has been saddled with in his beyond-cliché role of an impossible paterfamilias who, like his hapless daughter, undergoes a positive transformation. Every other character is likewise predictably conceived, from the jovial black female security guard (Sonya Eddy) at Jay’s apartment building and the two “models” who make over Deb (with a trés unflattering haircut, incidentally) to Keri Lynn Pratt’s bitch of a sister-in-law, to the leads themselves. The actors all work hard at being quirkily appealing to fit the drearily winsome formula of the film, but none of them succeeds at being very good. It was not long before this viewer tired of Cinderella Rue’s elfin expressions and irrepressible perkiness in trying situations, be they a child brattily squirting a drink on her or her reply to Cookie’s sudden announced desire to paint her: “You mean on my body or on canvas?” (Geez, even that damned cat attacks her on first sight.) She’s better—actually quite strong and good—when she finally stands up for herself, unfortunately with that inevitable line that should be permanently shelved in modern drama, “I am done!” But the transformation comes too late and is not enough to justify all that’s twee-ly gone before.