Film Review – Spread

I went to see this without really paying attention to the ’18’ certificate rating. I saw it billed as a rom-com, thought I’d push outside my usual filmgoing habits for the sake of inclusiveness and assumed I would face a world of pink, fluffy hearts. It was when I saw Ashton Kutcher manoeuvre Anne Heche into a variety of yoga poses while both were in the nip, that it dawned in me that this was not Nora Ephron territory.

British director David Mackenzie returns to a theme loosely similar to his 2007 film, Hallam Foe, looking at a young man and his amourous and sexual encounters with women. Nikki (Kutcher) is a lothario of unspecified age, though I assume his late-20s, who through seducing the rich and beautiful women of Los Angeles, provides himself with a borrowed life of easy sex, late night clubs, luxury houses, fast cars and no commitments.

With an initial performance of almost Zoolander proportions, we see him pick up Samantha (Heche), an obviously accomplished businesswoman given her hilltop pad that they head back to, in what is initially a one-night stand, until she finds him still at home when she returns from work. At this point she develops an interest in him as a possible partner, unknowing or unwilling to acknowledge that he sees her as a source of sex, food and shelter (at the end of the film, we are led to believe she made a similar mistake again). The twist comes when Nikki encounters Heather (Margarita Levieva) a waitress at a local cafe who refuses his pick-up lines and who turns out to be more than a match for the game he plays.

What at first appears to be a sexually explicit but cheeky comedy that will turn out to be a Shakespearean battle of the sexes, becomes more of an indie drama with a plunge of a knife to the heart with a twist. I am going to give the director the benefit of the doubt, and say that the surprise ending is perhaps meant to make us feel the jolt of reality that Nikki’s character feels. The trouble is, the intermittent Hollywood rom-com gloss throughout, has the effect of neutralising any message about how confusing and painful the characters’ relationships might actually be. Levieva brings a veiled and heartfelt vulnerability to her scenes, which is where the leftfield tone of the movie originates. It is her portrayal of a young woman racked by insecurities that makes the film even slightly interesting. Kutcher, with few subtleties in his performance, is left to ride her coat-tails.

The question then becomes, is this movie aimed at men as much as at women? It’s not obvious at the beginning if guys in the audience will admire or ridicule Nikki. His shocking disregard for the feelings of the women he picks up may be appreciated by some who admire the player in him, while others will relish his fall from grace. For those who did admire him, I’m not sure the transformation is complete enough to strike the message home.

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