Movie Review: “Uncertain Terms” Is Conflicting In Its Narrative


Review by James McDonald

Fleeing the city, Robbie takes refuge at his aunt’s country house, which happens to be a makeshift home for pregnant teenagers.

“Uncertain Terms” doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At times, it almost feels like a documentary, watching the lives of the characters involved, unravel in front of our very eyes, unscripted. Then, without warning, it quickly changes gears and suddenly, we’re not watching a documentary any more, rather, an independent movie with occasionally forced performances. Robbie (David Dahlbom) has just found out that his wife of many years cheated on him so he leaves the city to get away for a while so he can clear his head. He ends up staying with his aunt Carla (Cindy Silver) in the country who happens to run a halfway house for pregnant teenagers.

While the girls live in the home, Robbie stays in the basement on a makeshift bed and during the day he does odd jobs around the house. We get to know each of the pregnant girls and their stories as to how they ended up there and gradually, because Robbie is the only male around, they all become interested in him. He is kind and polite to all of them but little by little, he and one of the girls in particular, Nina (India Menuez) strike up an unlikely friendship together. Her boyfriend shows up occasionally and treats her like crap and one day, Robbie throws him off the premises and Nina suddenly feels secure around him.

Robbie has been trying to sort out his feelings about his cheating wife and in the end, he realizes that he can’t stay with someone who has betrayed him and embarrassed him like that and decides to get a divorce. He tells Nina that he really likes her and wants to take care of her and her baby and in the beginning, she feels the same but then his drunk wife turns up and everything goes south, fast. While I liked the overall story, I did not like the sudden switch from documentary-style to contrived drama. In a narrative like this, you can’t have both, you need to pick one genre and stick with it all the way through.

If the filmmakers had stuck with the documentary-style feel, even if it was a mockumentary, the atmosphere and performances would have been enough to achieve the desired result. However, when it switches to drama, the portrayals seemed very staged and artificial, almost like the actors were first-year drama students, unfamiliar with the concept of film acting. Also, I found characters doing and saying things that they later wound up contradicting. Robbie has decided to get a divorce from his adulterous wife and spends most of the movie arguing with her on the phone but then she turns up drunk and causes a huge altercation.

After things have quietened down somewhat, he walks up to her and she inquires “Can we go home now?” His response? A knowing smile that implies that they can. This gesture simply negates everything he said and did during the entire movie and granted, while people can change their minds, in this instant, it simply defies levelheadedness. While the cinematography by Cody Stokes was impressive and clear, I just wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie.

“Uncertain Terms” just screened at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival


James McDonald
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