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New Low

by on July 12, 2010
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“New Low” is a romantic comedy about miserable human beings. The main couple consists of a neurotic wimp and a hateful bitch. They spend their days belittling and tearing at each other, and the audience watches secure in the knowledge that the pain they exchange, they deserve.

As one puts it, “We’re not winners. But we can be losers together.”

This promising feature debut from writer/director/star Adam Bowers is a full-length (well, 81-minute) version of a shorter film from a couple of years ago. It’s got a distinct, edgy vibe highlighted by Bowers’ own quizzical acting style and a script filled with biting humor that spares no segment of society.

Imagine a Gen-Y version of Woody Allen’s 1970s period, transplanted from Manhattan to the bohemian college town of Gainesville, Fla.

The movie’s filled with snappy one-liners and rambling discussions that you can imagine actual underemployed young hipsters exchanging every day.

For instance, when twentysomething video store drone Wendell (Bowers) is discussing his socially conscious new girlfriend with his fellow slacker buddy Dave (Toby Turner), the subject of Habitat for Humanity comes up. “I don’t trust that construction,” he quips.

Wendell moves from girlfriend to girlfriend despite being anything but a ladies’ man. He’s got zero confidence, no money and not much to say. But as Dave notices, he comes off as such a pathetic naïf that women find it sorta charming.

He meets bartender Vicky (Jayme Ratzer), who struggles as an artist and isn’t a very nice person. But she and Wendell glom onto each other out of sheer boredom. They scratch and claw at each other, but the quiet moments are tolerable. Dead broke, their dating life consists of dumpster-diving and bogarting the free snacks at a local art gallery.

Then Wendell meets Joanna (Valerie Jones), an up-with-everything type who volunteers and attends rallies when she’s not helping kids at her day job. After a nasty split with Vicky, he finds he likes himself more when he’s around Joanna.

But are they really meant for each other? Or is he better off with the acid-tongued by exciting Vicky?

The plot goes a little wobbly about two-thirds of the way through. And the production values are zilch. But I found myself enjoying the time I spent with these acerbic characters who are mostly wandering through life, trying to figure out their purpose.

“New Low” is like a photo negative of the tired romantic comedy genre. Not everybody should fade to black with a kiss, a happy pop song pinging away.

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