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Indie Style Over Substance 

Spoonful of Sugar and Please Baby Please

click to enlarge Please don't tell the restaurant it's my birthday.

Spoonful of Sugar

Please don't tell the restaurant it's my birthday.

As the only thing going on at the multiplex appears to be Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a sequel based on a property that I at first assumed was some kind of joke, I did not turn up. Based on DC's general disregard for the movie and its widely reported dismal box office, I guess I'm with the crowd on this one, for once.

At the risk of incurring still greater wrath from the editor — not to mention her offspring — I am not as "with it" when it comes to the recent Academy Awards and the unprecedented but somehow unsurprising (at least among the odds-makers) anointing of Everything Everywhere All at Once, an exercise in meme-harvesting about which I found much to admire but could not love. Before the knives come out, I would like to say "yes, absolutely!" to Oscars for Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan, although this last might have more to do with Data and Short Round than with Waymond Wang; sometimes the world takes a few decades to right itself.

Further, the Daniels Kwan and Scheinert seem like a lovely couple of fellows who've embraced the moment and, with charm and humility, managed to subvert the norms of awards campaigning (feels weird to type that phrase) and win the world's most visible, self-obsessed popularity contest. But did the nerds really win, or has culture co-opted nerdiness? The predictability of Oscar night's outcome suggests the former more than the latter.

Anyway, I guess I was nursing something of a mainstream hangover and so went looking for a next-morning's double-shot of weirdness. Which I found, of course, but in its cold comfort there was and is also the bitter aftertaste of fringe entertainment that doesn't always manage to entertain, that reminds one of the comforts of familiar, if facile, indulgences.

SPOONFUL OF SUGAR, on its face, seems the sort of trip I'd be looking for: a maybe-psychotic young woman (Morgan Saylor) undergoing highly questionable LSD-based psychotherapy takes a babysitting job for successful (?) author (Kat Foster) — promoting her most recent book, about sex and relationships — and her carpenter (?) husband (Myko Olivier), whose job seems mostly to involve not wearing a shirt. The babysitter, who goes by different names depending upon whose company she finds herself in, is charged with the intensive day-to-day care of the couple's son (Danilo Crovetti), who purportedly suffers from severe allergies to almost everything in the world. The various relationships within the story fall subject to entropy from the outset, such that the climax, while somewhat surprising, still feels like a foregone conclusion.

Back in the bad old days of video store experimentation, something like this might have emerged as a sick, fun little find: an ambitious, low-budget freakout relying more on bravado and ingenuity than on resources in order to achieve its desired effect. In this state, though — and this is likely just the curmudgeonly nostalgist in me — Spoonful plays as an overdressed but underthought exercise in style. With the advances in technology that have revolutionized independent movie making in the last couple of decades, it has become possible to produce something that looks and sounds as good (or nearly) as something that might cost 100 times more after equipment, crew, etc. However, sound design and lighting cannot salvage a script, acting or editing, so a movie like Spoonful feels disappointing in a way something from the proverbial dollar bin would not.

Still, I hate to impugn anyone's work: Everybody clearly worked hard on this, and writer Leah Saint Marie and director Mercedes Bryce Morgan are doing the unenviable, admirable work of designing and constructing a vision that will now hopefully be seen by people who enjoy it more than me. NR. 94M. PRIME.

PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Director/co-writer (with Noel David Taylor) Amanda Kramer has here concocted a faux-'50s melodrama, dripping with kitsch and color and sexless sexuality, wherein married couple Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Henry Melling) witness the brutalization of two strangers by an anachronistic street gang called the Young Gents. Suze and Arthur are essentially cyphers, but this inciting incident would purport to cast them into a long, dark night of sexual awakening: Suze yearns to be an Alpha, Arthur wants to hide behind the legs of tough, troubled Teddy (Karl Glusman, the one spot of perfect casting in the works).

Please Baby Please proceeds from one vaguely connected scene to another without any true pretense of story. While it is undeniably successful as an exercise in mood — designed and decorated as it is, within an inch of its doe-eyed life — style alone cannot sustain. And while Riseborough and Melling are clearly trying very, very hard, their heightened style is either too large or too small to cohere: She's constantly screaming, never still; he's trying to shrink into himself. Glusman though, who feels like he was plucked auspiciously from some other scarier, sexier movie, magnetizes every time the camera finds him, bringing the inaptly specific dialogue and conflicted emotions to brief, memorable life. NR. 95M.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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