With its scenes of its young protagonist puking or contemplating her bad decisions while in the bath, its motif of cutesy illustrations and stuffed animals and even its one-word title, much of Unlovable is familiar, but the film at least offers a tale not often told. Charlene deGuzman, who co-wrote the screenplay based on her own life experiences, plays Joy, a woman struggling to recover from sex addiction. That’s a notoriously misunderstood condition, and too much of the conversation around it centers on heterosexual men, so deGuzman’s boldness is welcome. Director Suzi Yoonessi keeps the tone light. The addiction isn’t presented as a sob story, and the familiar beats of relapse and self-loathing are all there, albeit in a sunny tableau. Joy dresses in clothes emblazoned with dinosaurs and cats, and her hookup bar of choice serves pierogies, aggressively quirky window dressing on a story that is presumably far thornier.
In one of the most effectively uncomfortable moments, Joy sends the same obscene text to a number of different men, her desperation seeping through the screen. Melissa Leo, as Maddie, Joy’s 12-step program sponsor, gives a compelling performance, and her tough yet empathetic maternal quality proves a strong counterpoint to deGuzman’s millennial messiness. John Hawkes plays Maddie’s surly brother, with whom Joy ultimately forms a therapeutic rock band, but the film only scratches the surface of his psychology, settling instead on a lukewarm depiction of unlikely friendship. Early on, sex addiction is called “a gaping hole in the soul” but Unlovable barely has us feel it.
Suzi YoonessiCharlene deGuzman, John Hawkes, Paul James, Ellen Geer, Melissa LeoCharlene deGuzman, Sarah Adina Smith, Mark DuplassOrion Classics