Movie Review: ‘Pretty Problems’

Greetings again from the darkness. I have always assumed the familiar phrase “green with envy” was somehow related to green being the color most associated with money. Director Kestrin Pantera’s latest film does nothing but reinforce this. The script and story come from co-writers Britt Rentschler, Michael Tennant, and Charlotte Ubben, each who also play a key character in the film.

We first meet married couple Lindsay (Ms. Rentschler) and Jack (Mr. Tennant) as they finish up “good try” morning sex before heading off to work. Their lack of enthusiasm for intimacy is matched by the rest of their daily lives. She is a clerk at “Gift of Garb”, assisting others with selecting outfits, all while silently dreaming of designing her own fashions and running her own place. Jack (Mr. Tennant) is in an even less desirable spot. On probation stemming from an assault, he has been disbarred and can no longer practice law. He now sells solar energy door-to-door.

The set-up gets more interesting when oddball store client Cat (a terrific JJ Nolan) befriends Lindsay with some textbook positive image philosophy, and then invites ‘Linz’ and Jack to spend a weekend at her place in Sonoma. Jack finds the idea of spending the weekend with people they barely know to be unfathomable, yet relents when Lindsay persuades him and says they need new friends and experiences.

When they arrive, both Lindsay and Jack are stunned at the beauty and size of the estate. He references PURGE and calls it “a murder house”, while she is anxious to see how the other half lives. Another surprise greets them when it turns out to be Cat’s birthday weekend, and it’s to be shared with Cat’s husband Matt (Graham Outerbridge), and their friends Kerry (Alex Klein) and Carrie (Charlotte Ubben) … yes Kerry and Carrie. Also present for the weekend are Cat’s and Matt’s servants, Dan (Clayton Froning) and Becca (Katarina Hughes) … along with enough drugs and alcohol to supply a Los Angeles rave.

No cell or internet service and the bizarre personalities of these ultra-rich friends has us believing Jack’s initial assessment could be spot on. The constantly vaping Cat buddies up to ‘Linz’, while the drugs and booze lead to behavior that allows us to understand no amount of money leads to happiness – even if the parties can get pretty wild and the houses are spectacular. Yet another surprise unfolds thanks to the presence of Dan, the possessor of an enviable nickname. In other words, the escapist fun bears a price to pay, and it puts definite strain on the relationship between Lindsay and Jack.

Keeping up with the Joneses is rarely an admirable direction to take, and here a certain sadness permeates most scenes of indulgence. The newcomers experience feelings of inadequacy and respond quite differently – Jack understands they don’t fit in and simply wants to leave, while Lindsay also sees they don’t fit in, but is drawn to the “better” life and the idea of wallowing in affluence. This could have been biting satire were it a bit more clever. Instead, we are left watching as unhappiness takes shape across multiple economic sectors. The poor are overtaken by envy, while the rich are desperate to feel. Director Pantera’s film follows the template for a successful low budget film festival flick, and in fact, won an Audience Award at SXSW.

Opens in theaters October 7, 2022

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