Film Review: An Oversimplifiction of Her Beauty

Chock-a-block with creativity and cleverness, but ultimately too much of muchness.

The portentous title An Oversimplifiction of Her Beauty rather says it all, unfortunately. Terence Nance wrote, directed, produced, edited, stars and did God knows what else in this whimsical yet ultimately ponderous autobiographical dissection of a modern relationship. As his sonorous narrator (Reg E. Cathy) tells us, the embryo of this was a short film he made called How Would You Feel?, about being rejected by a girl named Namik. Nance then expanded it into a feature, which is divided into a torturously variegated series of segments, with the short providing a connecting loop.

The film begins well enough, with enough dry wit and observation in the writing to make you think this could be a more intellectual update of, say, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, with its focus on urban African-Americans searching for love. There are some piquant verbal riffs and Nance uses his camera and editing in amusing ways, giving you a chopped-salad vision of people trying to come together that has a kaleidoscopic appeal. It’s also an authentic vision of New York as lived by young Bohemians today, and the image of Nance trying to maneuver onto a subway sections of a bed he plans to make—a failed plan, as he uses the wrong wood—has a joyously emblematic quality to it.

But what might have worked as a short subject wears thin with the film’s single-minded and ubiquitously repetitive theme. Obviously made over a long period of time, Nance’s film throws everything up onscreen to give it added breadth and depth: more Brechtian devices than you can shake a stick at, words trailing around the characters’ heads, amateur video, and long animated sequences—both drawn and Claymation—which are highly variable in quality. The ultra-self-conscious cleverness becomes precocious and, despite the natural charm of the performances, the movie turns into a chore for the audience. Nance has a lot to say, some of it definitely worthwhile and amusing. The problem is, he says it over and over and over again, and the self-absorption palls.