Cinemanovels (R)

Comedy 89 min. July 3, 2014
By Sam Weisberg
As seductive as it is inert, Terry Miles' Cinemanovels manages to cast an alluring spell, despite not amounting to much. It sticks in the memory, mostly due to the playful lead performance by Lauren Lee Smith, a slinky blonde with both the angular gravitas of Chloë Sevigny and the goofy, self-effacing approachability of Holly Hunter.

The story — an indecisive woman learns, through watching his risqué melodramas, to forgive her estranged late father, a venerated filmmaker, and to liberate her own dormant impulsiveness — is thin and predictable. Most of Miles' visual motifs — a missing bunny slipper that turns up, Cinderella-style, at film's end; a married couple that communicates via walkie-talkie — are on the cutesy side. And it's criminal to cast the radiant Jennifer Beals in as thankless a bit part as this one.

But Miles has a knack for claustrophobic eroticism. Cinemanovels starts off, more or less, with a bang — in this case, a hand job in a medical ward. Its trysts unfold on cramped sofa beds, or in the cluttered studio apartments of neighbors one floor below unsuspecting cuckolds. It's a shame that all this blustery activity is at the service of such a wan plot. The sole suspense lies in whether Grace (Smith), who has become enamored of the femme fatale character in her dad's most obscure film, will choose her dull banker husband (Ben Cotton), who's pressuring her into motherhood, or the bearded, bohemian film editor downstairs (Kett Turton, a ringer for Peter Sarsgaard).

You wouldn't care if it weren't for Smith, who floods her aloof, often selfish character with vulnerability and crack comic timing. You never tire of her; even watching her watch television is somehow exciting.
Terry Miles Lauren Lee Smith, Jennifer Beals, Ben Cotton, Kett Turton, Katharine Isabelle, Sarah Grey, Catherine Michaud Terry Miles Monterey Media

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