Movie Review: ‘Stuff’ Doesn’t Have Much Good Stuff

Review By Tom Swift

The indie film Stuff sells itself short like a garage sale that sells death defying memories cheap.
There is almost a defiant attitude here of “we will not entertain.” Stuff deals with the corrosive effect that grief can have when someone will not let go. But five years are a long time when you have a lover and two children who need you. So a drama like this needs to make us feel the pain, then release it.

Stuff deals with a lesbian couple and their two children. The grief stricken Trish is a dentist and the breadwinner of the family. Debra is the stay at home mom who lives a child obsessed life because Trish has cut her off emotionally. Trish doesn’t return phone calls, doesn’t bother to show up for dinner. She and her mom Ginger mostly moan and groan over when and if they might someday pack up dear old dad’s stuff. For those of us who tear up over old photographs, Trish and Ginger are cold and unpleasant.

This is Lifetime terrain, but Lifetime would have given us some action and more than one, knock out, emotional battle. Stuff seems to think it’s better than that. Writer / director / producer Suzanne Guacci films this like it’s all in her head. An odd clue is that one of the young girls is named Suzie, played by a very talented Maya Guacci. If this is autobiographical somehow, this is still labeled as fiction. We should feel it in our hearts, for fiction allows for the full play of the emotions unrestrained by facts.

There are fine actresses here waiting for something to do. Karen Silas as Trish has the chops to break out of the emotionally constricted cage she’s placed in here. Her mom Ginger played by Phyllis Somerville often wows audiences with a brittleness she’s not allowed to access here. Yvonne Jung as Debra almost makes you believe she’ll find love with the inevitable other woman played as a bad girl by Traci Dinwiddle. She lights up the screen with a vivacity that’s missing within everyone else’s prim and proper performances.

Now a film like this is shot quickly and generally there are not the multiple takes needed to dig into a performance. That’s not our problem. The filmmaker needs to engage us somehow. Here the camera hardly moves. The lighting is flat. There apparently wasn’t enough money for hiring the background necessary to make this feel like a living, breathing film. It’s claustrophobic when we should be opening ourselves up to a world of emotion — as Trish and Debra fight to regain the life in their relationship.

If you pick up a difficult theme like grief and its corrosive effect on relationships, you need to treat the story like it’s a life and death matter. Here, it is just stuff. And that’s not very entertaining.

The film will screen at Outfest Los Angeles, at 3:00 pm, July 12, 2015 at the Harmony Gold Theater.

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