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All Relative

D: J.C. Khoury / 85m

Cast: Connie Nielsen, Jonathan Sadowski, Sara Paxton, David Aaron Baker, Al Thompson, Erin Wilhelmi, Liz Fye

Harry (Sadowski) is still getting over the break up with his fiancée – after a year has gone by. He’s continually encouraged to meet new women by his best friend, Jared (Thompson), but he’s afraid to take the plunge. One night, while out bowling with Jared, Harry meets Grace (Paxton); they hit it off but when he walks her home she reveals she’s seeing someone. They part as friends. Later that evening, Harry is in a hotel bar having a drink when he meets Maren (Nielsen). She’s in New York for the weekend and interested in “having fun”. They have sex in her room, but agree that it’s all purely physical. Over the course of the weekend, Harry tells Maren about Grace and she encourages him to call her. Harry and Grace meet up but she still treats him like a friend. When Harry is next with Maren, Grace texts him urgently and he goes to her, but not before Maren has made clear her disappointment with Harry’s reaction.

A month later, Harry and Grace are on their way to meet her parents. He’s nervous as Grace’s father, Phil (Baker), owns the architectural firm where he’s applied for a job. But his nervousness turns to outright dismay when Grace’s mother turns out to be Maren. With cracks in Maren and Phil’s marriage apparent from the beginning, and both Harry and Maren worried that one of them will tell Grace about their weekend together, the visit becomes bogged down by arguments and misunderstandings. When Harry is persuaded to stay over he finds himself giving marital advice to both Maren and Phil in which he preaches the values of listening and honesty – two things he’s not doing with Grace. When he finally decides to tell Grace about his time with her mother, Maren pre-empts him and sends Grace a text from his phone that ends their relationship but without mentioning their affair.

Unaware of what Maren has done, Harry is told by her as well that Grace no longer believes in his commitment to their relationship and she has ended it. Harry goes back to New York City, but doesn’t give up on Grace, or their relationship, and does his best to win her back.

All Relative - scene

There’s a point about two thirds into All Relative where Maren and Phil sit down and discuss their marriage and where it’s all gone wrong. It’s a long scene, well acted by Nielsen and Baker, but not as dramatic as it’s meant to be, and it’s a good example of the movie’s inability to make the serious parts of the script really dramatic, and to make the humorous parts really comedic. It’s an awkward mix, made more awkward by the movie’s frankly unbelievable sequence of events once Maren and Grace’s relationship is revealed. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but writer/director Khoury clearly hasn’t worked out how to make Harry’s predicament even remotely credible. And with a conclusion that feels more like a compromise than a realistic outcome, All Relative deprives the viewer of a fully rewarding experience.

Which is a shame as the movie could have been a lot sharper and a lot wittier. The initial scenes between Harry and Jared are handled with a pleasant whimsicality that bodes well for the rest of the movie, and Harry’s bashful approaches to Grace are cute without being overly cringeworthy. It’s all pointing to an enjoyable rom-com with an indie slant, and with the introduction of Maren, an indie rom-com with a slight hint of danger: will Harry have to choose between the two new women in his life?  Alas, any edge is pushed to the kerb as the movie enters farce territory with Maren’s reaction to Harry’s arrival. Nielsen’s performance teeters on the overblown at this point (and is a good indicator as to why this is her first “comedy”), but the script, on its way to being completely schizophrenic in tone, helps her out by reining in her outlandish attitude, but only by making her a relative figure of sympathy. As the movie progresses, Maren veers between being cunning and manipulative, and sensitive and thoughtful, but this inconsistency hurts both the character and the movie.

However, Maren’s uncertain personality is nothing compared to Harry’s unnecessary insistence on being truthful. Only in the movies would someone take another person at their word if they said, let’s be completely honest about everything. Harry’s need to reveal all about his fling with Maren often feels like the character can’t get by without the occasional bit of self-flagellation; here, his need provides the movie with what little real drama it can muster, but it feels forced purely by virtue of its repetition. It also leaves Harry sounding like an emotional misanthrope, as if by being completely honest he’ll be better than everyone around him (even if he doesn’t say this outright). Sadowski looks uncomfortable throughout, as if he’s realised that Harry is a bit of a dumbass and he’s decided to act accordingly (to be fair, the script does paint him that way).

With only Grace and Phil given anything remotely reminiscent of a believable personality or character, All Relative falls back too many contrivances and there-for-the-sake-of-it moments to make it all work. Khoury relies heavily on his cast to make the material more effective but alas they can’t, and while Paxton and Baker come out of things with their reputations intact, sadly, Nielsen and Sadowski give mannered, uneven performances that are often uncomfortable to watch. The movie is also quite bland in its look and feel and there’s no appreciable zing to proceedings, events and occurrences happening with what appears to be a frightening lack of consideration or interest on Khoury’s part (and that’s without taking the viewer into account).

Rating: 4/10 – let down by a script that can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be, All Relative staggers along without making the audience care about its characters or what happens to them; too awkward to work effectively, the movie runs aground with indecent haste and never recovers its forward momentum.