Director: Adam Christian Clark
Cast: Adam Christian Clark, Jennifer Kim, Molly C. Quinn, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Rémy Bennett, Greg Gilreath, Raychel Diane Weiner, Marguerite Moreau
Watch Newly Single online in the UK: Amazon Instant Video
“So many independent films end without any sense of hopefulness,” These words, intoned by Astor Williams Stevenson, the main protagonist of Newly Single, seem somewhat ironic when contained within a film that itself is an often dark and bitter examination of the LA dating scene, the solipsism of ‘creatives’ and of the process of filmmaking. But for all its darkness, the sophomore feature from Adam Christian Clark is an often funny and compelling tale that both reinforces and repudiates the stereotypes that make up an ‘American Independent Film’.
The story follows film director Stevenson (Clark) in the aftermath of a break-up with his girlfriend, Valeire, as he gets back into the LA dating scene, while pining for the life that he’s lost. Taking an almost sketch-like approach, the film sees Stevenson attend a number of dates and engage in a number of sexual liaisons, the majority of which end in awkwardness and see Stevenson no better than he was before. These are interspersed with the trials and tribulations of Stevenson attempting to get a film off the ground – and dealing with the demands of stars and Hollywood agents – and flashbacks that reveal more about his break-up with Valerie.
It’s hard not to feel and echo of Woody Allen in the film – a director stars as a fictionalised version of himself in a story that is both about his troubles with women and the pain of the filmmaking process. But where Allen was usually played a nebbish klutz, Clark is unafraid to veer into much more dark territory. Stevenson is a caustically cynical and unconscionable protagonist, constantly sabotaging his relationships with people around him. He bristles at someone daring to suggest another director’s film was better than his. He humiliates friends. Yet he still retains our empathy, partly because Clark’s committed performance allows for vulnerability to bubble under the surface. But it’s also because many of those who surround him are as bad – if not worse – than him. Everyone is interested in their own agenda, their own careers, their own likes and dislikes. The concept of sharing and empathy seems alien. Even the graphic sex scenes peppered throughout the film all seem to focus on how one person’s gratification will always be at the expense of someone else’s. A section when Stevenson is visited by his sister are the most warm and human – a genuine familial connection (mostly) untainted by the fakery of LA life.
Clark ramps up the air of disingenuous by mostly setting the film at night, within cramped and claustrophobic apartment buildings and offices. There’s a sense of unreality, the theatrical – all artificial light and dark corners leading to nowhere. Everyone here is playing a role and they have to stick to the script lest their careers suffer.
This artificiality also works as a meta-commentary on its own existence. A subplot sees Stevenson arguing with an actresses’ agent over a mooted nude scene. But in some of the aforementioned sex scenes (which take away much of the Hollywood gloss associated with such scenes – there’s no Vaseline smeared over the camera lens here), Clark is unafraid to let it all hang out. Stevenson’s desire to make an ostensibly positive film seems at odds with Clark’s ultimately downbeat conclusions.
But it would be remiss to cast Newly Single as an exercise in unrelenting melancholy. Stevenson’s rants – directed at Scientology (due to his previous girlfriend becoming involved in the religion) or interfering agents – are often extremely funny, while there are moments of broad comedy, such as Stevenson thinking it would be a good idea to show one of his guns to a date.
It’s very structure means that Newly Single is sometimes a staccato affair, but this works in its favour, as it reflects the somewhat transient and changing nature of its protagonists who are never comfortable just ‘being’. While the film is undoubtedly cynical, Clark has created a richly satisfying affair by blending it with a clever and caustic wit.