Why Does It Exist?

Loose Women (1997)

In Reviews on August 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm

This week, on Goosebumps...

It’s certainly not unheard of for an actor who hits the big time to find one of their early projects re-released (or finding release for the first time) to capitalize on their new-found fame. It happened to Bradley Cooper this year with a ten-year-old rom-com named Breaking All the Rules; it happened to Amy Adams with a similarly terrible-looking flick called Moonlight Serenade. While it’s certainly a pretty cheap move by whoever holds the rights to the movie, it’s pretty excusable by the fact that there now exists an audience where there was once mass apathy.  Compare that to the flaming trainwreck covered in exploding babies that is Charlie Sheen’s life.

Of all the bullshit, exploitative moves that surrounded Charlie Sheen’s very public meltdown earlier this year (many of which were perpetrated by Sheen himself), the unceremonious home-video release of a film titled Loose Women is possibly the most crassly inexplicable. Shelved for fourteen years, this unremarkable indie flick finally found its way to DVD with Sheen’s name plastered all over it despite the fact that he has little more than a cameo in this movie that would otherwise have fared better hidden away in whatever dark crevasse it was fished out of. Sheen’s illusory idea that he was a bonafide movie star rather than the film world’s equivalent of Cosmo Kramer (falling ass-backwards in things he doesn’t deserve) was short-lived, especially considering that any out-of-the-loop gossip fiends who wanted to know what Sheen was up to before going supernova could walk in to their local video store and find Loose Women and very little else in the last half-decade.

Rachel rebuffs a young Wes Anderson in his football days.

Alas, Loose Women is not a BangBus-style cinema vérité piece where a coked-up Sheen prowls the streets of LA with his pants around his ankles, looking for goddesses to feed him raisins and numb his asshole with high-grade cocaine. It’s the kind of drab, banal indie dramedy that was all the rage in the mid-90’s: the trials and tribulations of attractive thirtysomething Manhattanites as they whine their way through life. To give you an idea of exactly how unsalvageable the film was presumably deemed, it was made at a time when prodigious non-talents like Edward Burns and Eric Schaefer were given the keys to the kingdom. At a time when studios were tripping all over themselves to release She’s the One and If Lucy Fell, they took a look at Loose Women and thought ‘No, thanks.’

Rachel (Sherry Ham, who also penned the screenplay) is a struggling actress in New York who mostly works as an extra. Her wild-and-crazy friend Tracy (Marialisa Costanzo) has just come in to the Big Apple with acting ambitions of her own. They form a proto-Sex and the City power trio with Rachel’s roommate Gail, a Park Avenue princess turned schoolteacher who’s in hot water with the director of the prestigious private school she works and her own upper-crust family for something that we’re not made privy to. Now that Tracy’s in town, they decide to go out a lot and show her what living in New York is all about. As it turns out, the New York nightlife circa 1997 includes lots of brightly-lit clubs catering to a diversified clientele of businessmen, punks, zoot –suited gangsters, and other interestingly-attired extras as well as one shitty, run-down tavern. Tracy’s just arrived in New York and she’s already become involved with Jack (Corey Glover from Living Colour!), Rachel’s neighbour and sometime squeeze, earning some ire from Rachel.

You know, I don’t usually review tiny independent films on here because there are so many inexplicable productions with money and studios behind them that I don’t need to spend too much time shitting on someone who’s put all their hopes, dreams and finances into a product that ultimately sucks.  On the other hand, whatever stinging disappointment director Paul F. Bernard may have felt at the terrible reception of his film has probably faded away in the fourteen years since the film was soundly ignored. There’s certainly a hint of nepotism to the proceedings as Bernard happens to be married to Ham, so they’ve joined forces in order to put across the hodgiest, podgiest attempt at riding the tail-end of the indie wave.

Gus Fring is a man of many faces.

It doesn’t help that Ham is an extremely grating screen presence, a walking bundle of tics with the voice of Drew Barrymore and the body language of a five-year-old who really needs to pee. I mean… Look, I hate plays on words as much as the next guy. I’m not fucking Gene Shalit. But this woman’s last name is HAM, with one M, and she oversells every little motion, line reading and reaction like she’s on a kids’ show. Do you know how hard it is not to make the obvious connection? Do you?! Almost everyone in the cast has that deliberate, overly-enunciated cadence most often associated to children’s programming of the PBS variety. Sure enough, most are making their feature debut in here; the major characters are a hodgepodge of dancers, musicians and soap opera stars who seem to have had a hard time dialing it down. If Reading Rainbow improbably put forth a parody of independent films, it would probably look a lot like this.

Loose Women unfolds as what appears to be an accidental series of vignettes , some of which are completely perplexing. That’s it. Early on in the film, a couple of flaming hair stylists portrayed by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito and Keith David have a verbal slapfight with a makeup artist played by Sheen’s baby sis, Renée. That’s it. Stephen Lang (of Avatar and, most importantly, Band of the Hand fame) plays a drunken would-be prophet who stumbles around spouting enough bullshit to launch our main characters into an out-of-place conversation about karma, atheism, good deeds going unpunished. In fact, pretty much every time the characters head into a bar, the plot grinds to a halt so our main characters and a couple of barflies can engage in philosophical debate around a whole lot of ideas headier than a movie called Loose Women could possibly hope to explore properly.

All in all, I'm kinda glad he dropped the creepo goatee. Makes it hard to take him seriously.

Sheen makes his big appearance in one of these unrelated vignettes. Rachel and Tracy are at a would-be Barbie-themed bar (this is not visually obvious) and relates the story of how her mother sold all of her vintage Barbies while she was off at college. Cue the Ma-Sheen who appears as if from the ether in an unbuttoned silk shirt and a panty-soaking goatee. He has an extended rant about Barbies, the unrealistic expectations they place on women and a balls-insane anecdote about his childhood GI Joe attacking Malibu Barbie and how Barbie emasculated Ken because GI Joe has real facial hair. He ends the scene apoplectic, screaming ‘YOU GOT NO KUNG-FU GRIP!’ over and over. Sheen waltzes in with a Walken-like devotion to the role, inhabiting a world of staccato cadences and self-absorbed soliloquizing that’s a very welcome respite from the soap opera dramatics of the rest of the cast. Barring the irony of the most famous out-of-control misogynist of the last ten years appearing on-screen and basically having one of his now-famous freakouts, the scene has fuck all to do with anything.

Speaking of fuck all, the title is somewhat misleading. I know sexual politics have changed some since 1997, but my understanding of the term ‘loose women’ is somewhat different from the film’s. You know that Tracy’s wild because she has a pierced navel (gasp!) and orders Blowjobs at the bar (that brazen hussy!) but other than that they’re pretty much just loose in the sense that they’re not in cages, leashed to a post or otherwise incapable of the full range of movement.  I think it’s great that somebody made a film about would-be strong female characters (the writing’s not good enough to actually convey strength… or really anything but widespread irritation) but the way most people act around Tracy would really only apply to a pansexual heroin addict with three boobs and a tattoo of Lydia Lunch taking a dump on her lower back. In one scene, she orders the aforementioned Blowjob drink and drinks it the way one drinks a Blowjob (hands behind your back) and Jack reacts like she’s blowing a chimp. While the film does get points for reversing the usual stereotypes (every guy in here pretty much comes off as an asshole at some point but, in a novel twist, sometimes people get over someone else acting like an asshole and the asshole characters don’t end the movie getting shit on by a elephant or falling ass-first into a fountain), it loses them almost immediately for taking part in an alien dimension where almost everyone acts like they’ve never been around people before.

Jeepers! The ghost of the mansion is Old Man Bibbles!

Later on in the film, it’s revealed that prissy goody-two-shoes Gail moonlights as a prostitute as a way to deal with the fact that her father was sexually abusive to her all her life. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. Gail’s propensity for prostitution is treated by everyone like some sort of disorder, prompting the words ‘episode’ and ‘relapse’ to be bandied about a lot. To be perfectly honest, that’s about the time that I lost track of exactly what Loose Women was trying to say. To reuse a reference for the last time, it begins like a female-oriented Swingers, fiddles around in that world for about half an hour and then turns into an earnest drama about societal expectations of women and the banalization of sexual abuse. Both of those movies might’ve been good were it not for the fact that the film keeps the same tone throughout and makes the viewer feel like they’re being explained sex by public-access veterans. When Rachel tells a detective that Gail’s father used to punish her by raping her (which is not funny in the least), she uses the same sing-songy delivery as when she wakes Tracy up to take her for a slice of pizza (which is, unfortunately, a little bit funny). Towards the end, the gang pretty much Scooby-Doos (which is directly referenced, by the way) their way into saving their friend who they suspect is being drugged by the family doctor so she won’t escape her sexually abusive family. As horrid as this is on paper, the film treats it with about the same gravitas as it does the fact that Rachel can’t get a decent part.

So why does it exist?

There was no better way to launch a career in the mid-90’s than making a movie like Loose Women. It launched the career of a thousand unlikely superstars, from gregarious sorts like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau to the thoroughly unlikeable Eric Schaeffer. Those movies hold a certain place in most people’s hearts if only because there was a time in everyone’s life where you could relate (or will relate) to the romantic entanglements of twentysomethings more attractive and successful than you. Alas, Loose Women features almost nothing relatable in its parade of kooky vignettes or prudish semi-Martian characters who treat repeated sexual abuse like a recurring annoyance.

It was a movie made as a calling card to sell the talents of a bunch of unknowns; it worked so poorly that almost no one involved made a career out of it. Bernard has an extensive career in producing but he never directed another film; Ham racked up a couple of acting credits afterwards but jobs appear to be few and far between. Loose Women is the ugly flipside of success stories like Clerks and Reservoir Dogs. It’s what happens when someone risks it all… and ‘all’ turns out to be less smart, less funny and less poignant than most movies. Loose Women is not worse than a lot of movies of its ilk, but it takes something particularly unappealing to stay dormant until Charlie Sheen has a manic episode… and then take this ostensibly heartfelt movie about sexual abuse and slap a couple of bikini babes on the cover to get someone to watch it.

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