Movie Review – Sex Weather
Writer-director Jon Garcia (The Falls) makes his protagonist a filmmaker who’s made a movie that has itself been reviewed by critics. At one point, the woman with whom he’s having an affair reads one of the reviews to him. Because there’s not much information about the movie-within-the-movie, one can only assume that the review is self-reflexive commentary about what’s happening here or it’s just anticipatory remarks of what Garcia thought reviews were going to be.
The review that the protagonist hears is the following. “While budgetary limitations were no doubt a factor, there’s so little attempt at being cinematic that we get a rare sequence actually driven by visuals rather than dialogue. There can be a fine line between deliberately minimalist style and simple lack of technical expertise or imagination.”
Garcia’s fictional review by some unnamed critic could exist as the critic in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman does. It could exist as a source of derision or irony. It could also exist as a way of pushing back. Garcia’s protagonist could therefore be a proxy for himself and a mouthpiece for Garcia’s own frustration or exasperation. His protagonist is Darrel Graham, played by Al’Jaleel McGhee. Darrel is an African-American filmmaker in the Northwest who has just premiered his new movie.
Upon hearing this review of his premiere, Darrel says, “If they knew what I went through to make it, they’d understand.” It’s almost a plea that Garcia is trying to make through Darrel. Having heard from independent filmmakers, particularly African-American filmmakers, this is certainly a true sentiment that they wish for their critics. Yet, Darrel’s response isn’t just a meta-response from Garcia. It perhaps has resonance to his character’s history.
Darrel’s movie is autobiographical or inspired by a person he knows and it may be about an ex-girlfriend specifically. In that, Darrel is reminiscent of Christopher Scott Cherot’s character of Lee in Hav Plenty (1998). Lee made a movie in order to get over a breakup and his own broken heart. Darrel has done the same, so his plea in response to the review probably isn’t to the critic but a preemptive plea to his ex-girlfriend, anxious that she might not like the movie he made.
This is all subconscious of course because when Darrel makes this plea, he’s lying naked next to Sydney Livingston, played by Amber Stonebraker, a former co-worker on his film with whom he’s now having an affair. She contrasts to his frustrated, anxious and slightly depressed, creative type. She’s instead a more self-assured, no-nonsense but quirky woman who has a Zooey Deschanel-vibe. Darrel has had a secret crush on her, but either of their availability and relationship statuses remain in question.
Their discussion about their availability, as well as their thoughts about various other topics, including professional and prurient interests, is the basis and thrust of Garcia’s movie. It takes place all in one location and over the course of one day. It’s a chamber piece not unlike My Dinner With Andre (1981). Instead of meeting at a fancy restaurant for quail and potato soup, Darrel and Sydney eat takeout Thai food, all while staying in bed.
However, Garcia’s goal isn’t to have as intellectual a back-and-forth as in that 1981 classic. His goal isn’t to have the kind of repartee or verbal tug-of-war as the similarly premised Where We Started (2014), a Before Sunrise-knock off about a man and woman who have an affair and then contemplate being together or running off with one another.
If Garcia is riffing on anything though, he’s riffing on Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011). He replaces the queer anxiety in Haigh’s monumental statement with that of racial anxiety. Darrel’s aforementioned plea, coupled with other expressions he makes in this film, could be a metaphor for the struggle a black artist must face when trying to find space in the American northwest like Portland, Oregon, the likely setting of this film. Garcia’s movie doesn’t acknowledge Portland’s predominantly white landscape or any of its inherent racism, but that kind of non-acknowledgment is actually emblematic of Portland’s problem. McGhee is well used in that regard as he has a presence akin to a young Paul Robeson and a charm and humor akin to an older Jay Pharoah.
Like Weekend, Garcia is honest about how human beings would be or should be in post-coitus situations, and maybe that’s all this film needs to be. It’s a slightly raw morning after that can be awkward in one moment and quite arousing in the next. It doesn’t have to aim any higher than being a sexy interlude on a rainy day because it accomplishes that.
Not Rated but contains full-frontal nudity and sexual depictions.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.
Available on Nov. 27 on DVD/VOD.