Brittany Snow Makes a Fine Directorial Debut With A Candid & Nervous Romantic Drama [SXSW]
Mar 12, 2023
“Parachute” is the feature directorial debut of actor Brittany Snow, the blonde bombshell familiar from “Hairspray,” the “Pitch Perfect” movies, and, most recently, Ti West’s “X.” She also produced and co-wrote the script with Becca Gleason, but this does not feel like some vanity project. If anything, it’s the opposite – a purposefully de-glammed examination of body image and self-loathing from a woman whose age and line of work would suggest that she’s had plenty of unfortunate opportunities to indulge in both.
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We meet her heroine, Riley (Courtney Eaton, very good), as she’s checking out of rehab, where she went for, in her words, “body stuff… and also my head….” Riley fixates on herself, on the tiniest bit of spare flesh, and that fixation manifests itself in disordered eating, sex addiction, and occasional suicidal thoughts. She’s instructed to take it easy as she returns to the world where her ex-boyfriend has moved on (and is documenting his new relationship on Instagram, of course); she is not to have any relationships for a year.
So it’s fairly inopportune of her to have a Meet Cute in a karaoke bar on her very first night out. Ethan (Thomas Mann) is shaggy and charming, and a little bit sketchy, and soon Riley finds herself telling her BFF, “I’m gonna go get food with… this stranger.” They have the kind of solid B+ first date where asking someone up seems appropriate, but she can’t ask him up because of everything, but of course, she does, and of course, it goes badly. “I’m sorry this is so complicated,” she shrugs. “It’s been a weird couple of months.”
Ethan seems unphased, and so they start to hang out a lot – but strenuously insisting, to themselves and others, that “it’s not a relationship, it’s a friendship.” And when Snow and Gleason get to this point in their screenplay, you may think you know where it’s going, and you’d be right. And also wrong. Because sometimes things work themselves exactly as they do in movies – and then, somehow, they suddenly don’t.
Riley is a real meal for any good actor (which Eaton is), a complicated and frequently sympathetic character who also, occasionally, does wildly unlikable things and acts unforgivably toward the people who care about her. This rings true, and this is a film filled with good people who often, as in life, make bad choices. “I mean, you’re so much better than all this,” Ethan tells her, less to comfort than out of a sense of sheer exhaustion. You see why he cares about her so much – and you see why that would freak her out.
It would be very easy to write and play Ethan as the knight who comes to her rescue, but the screenwriters (and the instantly charismatic Mann) resist that urge as well. Ethan has complexities of his own and is perhaps overly sympathetic and even indulgent with Riley because he’s used to dealing with addicts. His father (a quietly convincing Joel McHale) is a lifelong drunk, so Ethan is used to making apologies and being sympathetic. He may even be too used to it. “You love this – this is your whole identity!” Riley notes perceptively. He can’t solve his own problems because he’s too busy solving everyone else’s.
Eaton and Mann come off as both believable and sympathetic, even when they’re being horrible to each other, and the supporting roles are fleshed out beautifully (Dave Bautista is delightful in a role that feels like a favor, as the frustrated director of a murder mystery dinner theater). Every actor has a chance to shine because the script is so psychologically introspective; it’s a movie that captures how people act in their most private moments. Eaton is asked to go particularly deep, burrowing into Riley’s tics and fixations, dramatizing how her worst impulses manifest themselves, and there are moments here that are so candid it’s borderline uncomfortable. Pressed to explain what drives her impulses, she says, “I’m alone, and I can hear my head again, and I have to make it stop.” And by that point, we’ve spent enough time alone with her to know exactly what she means.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to note that Riley and Ethan finally really go for it an hour in, leaving this viewer wondering where the story could possibly go next. And that might be the most revelatory thing about “Parachute” – she gets her happily ever after, and she’s still a mess because making it happen with the right person doesn’t immediately jettison your mental and physical illness. This script fails in other ways; the strong ear for dialogue falters badly when it comes time for the obligatory Big Fight scenes, and her sessions with her kind therapist (Gina Rodriguez) are a little too easy and a little too empty. But this is a fine debut otherwise, the kind of film that’s so immensely, intensely personal that it becomes universal. Riley and Ethan (and, presumably, Snow herself) have their tics and affectations, their addictions and obsessions. And so do I. And so do you. [B+]
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