- Directed by Andrea Dorfman
- Written by Jennifer Deyell
- Starring Chelsea Peretti, Susan Kent and Bill Carr
- Classification PG; 87 minutes
During her tenure on the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chelsea Peretti was the fiercest player in a cast stacked with secret comedic weapons. By starting from a base level of straight-faced deadpan and working up to a height of withering contempt, Peretti was an expert at lobbing insults at her co-stars that detonated with the power of a thousand incendiary explosive devices. She was hilarious, in a terrifyingly intimidating manner. It was a good shtick – one that she and Brooklyn Nine-Nine producers imported over from her stand-up comedy persona – but would it work in a non-sitcom setting? Such as, say, a gentle Canadian rom-com?
Toronto director Andrea Dorfman decided to answer that question with Spinster, a Halifax-shot comedy/character study built on a risky theory: We all know that a film can be carried by the sheer charisma of its star, but could it also perhaps be carried by a star’s … anti-charisma? That sounds like an insult, but Peretti is tasked here with a tricky challenge: By playing a deliberately unlikeable lead who audiences must nevertheless learn to root for, she has to both exploit her contemptuous aura as a performer and disarm it at the same time. We need to relate to Peretti’s lonely cynic at the same time we want her to shed that very grumpiness, at least a little bit.
Peretti is more successful here than the film itself. Playing Gaby, a childless caterer who is dumped by yet another boyfriend on her 39th birthday, the actor is committed to making her heroine more than a collection of lonely-hearts clichés. As Gaby cycles through a series of Tinder dates, each more depressing than the last, Peretti finds a way to mix a high-low emotional balance of crushing desperation and to-hell-with-this humour. And when Gaby steps back from her romance woes to simply catch up with the travails of her family, who are all arguably in worse emotional shape than her, Peretti hits a sympathetic sweet spot that portends a great future in more dramatic projects, and more ambitious ones, too.
While Spinster works well enough as a showcase for Peretti’s talents, Dorfman never matches the power of her star. With a bare-bones production design and most of its scenes blocked in a pedestrian manner, Spinster looks like a TV show that simply goes on too long. Aside from a cute cartoon opening – animated by Dorfman herself – the film is bereft of visual flair or singular vision. Lacklustre, too, are the supporting performances, with a largely local cast floundering against Peretti, and Dorfman either unwilling or unable to help.
At least the Halifax scenery, when Dorfman decides to venture outside the film's many anonymous apartments and kitchens, is pretty. And I'm certain Peretti enjoyed the opportunity to breathe some East Coast ocean air while stretching her acting muscles. She deserves any happiness afforded to her.
Spinster is available on iTunes Canada and Vimeo on Demand starting Aug. 7
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