|Starring:||Jaime Anne Brown, Jennifer Ferguson, Brandy Howard, Sean O’Bryan, Travis Schuldt, and Jay Thames|
Sara and Brad are through. She can’t even bare to hold his hand. Divorce is inevitable.
Randall has been living the high life. He beds down a different woman anytime he wants. While his job affords him many creature comforts, he has a drawer in his office full of credit card receipts.
Will is frustrated. He’d rather watch porn and pleasure himself than participate in the cat and mouse game of dating. But true love might just run into him on the street.
Sam, the estranged half-sister of Brad and Randall, is awfully beautiful and as sexy. In her zeal for the next unique sexual encounter, she might end up breaking a taboo.
Austin is a free spirit who can’t seem to tell the truth except while alone recording her thoughts on audiotape.
Jonathan Walls’ film “Automatic” understands what it is to be young, successful, and unhappy in America. The common element in all of the four intimate intersecting stories is a creeping sadness that infects all the characters. To many viewers, it will be familiar.
Director Walls and his writer Jay Thames (who also plays Will) would probably like their film compared to the work of Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”) or even that of Steven Soderbergh when referring to “Automatic.” But such references would be misplaced. “Automatic” is more traditional and less offensive than anything Solondz has given us, for example, and the framing and telling of the story is direct and uncomplicated.
Some viewers will consider the Walls’ and Thames’ filmmaking approach flat and uninvolving. I consider it restrained and literate. Even though the possible taboo relationship between Brad and Sam (who are half siblings) might push the edge of the envelope, this film is really just an old fashioned romantic drama . I mean “old fashioned” in the tongue-in-cheek sense of the talky twenty-something films of the 1990s, but here the characters have grown older, yet, not grown up. They drink and party but find it harder to get up the next morning. And their booze is no longer sweet and diluted.
There is so much truth in “Automatic.” Sara and Brad are a good looking couple sharing financial success, but what is unsaid is that their sex life lacks something. The fact that Brad turns to Sam for comfort isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is how the script handles this possible encounter. And Will’s frustration is displayed with a raw frankness that makes you want to turn away but cannot, wince maybe, but not turn away. What I liked about the scenes involving sex in this film was that it was self-contained and credible. Never did I doubt the sincerity of the emotions present especially as to Will and his little tragic relationship with Austin.
The main problem with “Automatic” is that it is too ambitious giving us 6 characters of equal weight instead of lingering on one long enough for the viewer to become properly acquainted. I would have liked the focus to be on one, possibly two of the stories instead of attempting to cover all the bases. It is okay to have multiple story lines but when the stories are all one note (about failed relationships), the angst becomes repetitive. And having so many characters can present plot development problems. For example, Brad is some kind of ad writer but during the story never seems to do any work. Now, this might be because the time-frame of the story is tight, but this unexplained detail left me wanting and even confused. Another problem concerned Sam and her mysterious fortune. Although she tells us that she has just landed back in town after many years, she already has a mansion completely decorated. I must’ve missed something, I donno.
“Automatic” introduces us to 6 troubled souls who cannot overcome a creeping sadness. It reminds us that the angst of the 1990s never went away it just became deeper, repressed, and waiting to show itself.