Review by Dan Odenwald
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Thursday, 10/19/2006, 9:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema
ENGAGING AND frequently funny, What’s Up Scarlet? is a quirky little movie that follows the unlikely and unexpected love affair of Scarlet (the deliciously acerbic Susan Priver) and Sabrina (the sensual and exotic Musetta Vander).
Set in Los Angeles, the story opens, unsurprisingly enough, with a traffic accident. (Is that the only way people meet in L.A.?) Scatter-brained Sabrina, wracked with nerves over an upcoming audition, rear-ends Scarlett, a high-strung, loveless career woman who owns her own dating service.
Through a twist of events, Scarlet invites Sabrina, who is living out of her car, to stay with her for a few days. Through Sabrina’s warm personality and joie de vivre, Scarlet’s frigid heart begins to warm.
A largely character-driven piece, the film succeeds on the strength of its performances. Susan Priver is wonderful as the tightly-wound matchmaker. A mix of sarcasm and vulnerability create the perfect pitch that entices audiences to fall for her. Musetta Vander is equally likable as the free-spirited actress who triumphs in overcoming Scarlet’s hard edges. When they eventually end up in bed together, it seems wonderfully natural, almost fated — not forced and contrived as so many straight-to-gay movies can be.
The film is also nicely rounded out with a punchy performance by Sally Kirkland, who plays Scarlet’s manipulative and overbearing mother. Never content to simply pay her daughter a compliment, she agrees that Scarlet would be pretty if only ”she would get her teeth fixed.” Jere Burns turns in a cutting and humorous performance as the slacker, pothead brother, Benjamin. When he learns Scarlet has accidentally set him up with Ashley, a former porn star, he makes a play for Sabrina to exact revenge.
If the movie falters at all, it’s because of its strict adherence to the formulaic elements of the romantic comedy. Girl meets girl. They become friends. Then something more. Tragic misunderstanding causes break-up. But love overcomes, and they live happily ever after. If this were a lesser movie, What’s Up Scarlet? would have collapsed under the contrivances. But under the sharp direction of Anthony Caldarella and the refreshingly lively performances, it’s not weighted down.
Like the romance it seeks to portray, What’s Up Scarlet? is an unexpected surprise. Though many films bill themselves as romantic comedies, What’s Up Scarlet? has the unique quality of actually being one. — DO