The romantic comedy Toss It starts with someone flipping a coin – but ultimately it’s the audience that’s the loser.
The lead actress is unappealingly cold. The script is overly talky. And the director seems unsure of how to help the star, or the screenwriter, solve their problems.
Of course, the fact that the director is the star, and the screenwriter (and the producer) may be the problem.
The old line “film is a collaborative medium” isn’t just about being generous. It’s about being protected. A clever director can guide an uncertain actor. An inspired performer can smoothe over a bad line.
But when one person is doing all the important jobs, there’s no one to tell her where she’s going wrong. Unless she’s a genius, she’s courting trouble.
And hardworking as she obviously is, Michele Remsen is no genius.
Toss It, her first feature, begins at a wedding, where two guests, Finn and Emily, are getting not so quietly tipsy. Increasingly angry, too. There’s an attraction there, but it’s of opposites. She’s a romantic. He’s a cynic. Their initial flirtation turns into a fight.
And it’ll be the first of many in a film that’s mostly about couples uncoupling, re-litigating old slights and lobbing new insults, before defining their own happy endings.
Remsen has clearly put some careful thought into constructing her story. It revolves around women at different ages and in different stages – a sixtyish wife, a fortyish single, and two twenty-somethings, one gay and unattached and one gay-curious and newly wed. It then puts those four women through two weddings, and a funeral.
But it never quite adds up.
The lead actors remain flatly unappealing, with Remsen looking merely weary as Emily – as she probably was, with all the other jobs she took on — and Phil Burke only annoying as the childish Finn. And the script isn’t just talky, but full of howlers like “Do you think I could stretch the unitard of his better angels across the fat ass of his issues?”
No, and please don’t try.
Remsen’s true skills may be as a producer. The film was shot in 12 days and doesn’t look it, with some cleverly faked “on location” shots and smartly repurposed sets. She’s also drawn on a wealth of veteran NY-based actors, with Stephen Bogardus and that old scamp Malachy McCourt adding some sly humor to the cast.
But as a director, Remsen’s content to let her story unfold as a series of dialogues – two characters yak at each other, then two other characters take their turn. It’s scene after scene of people talking, telling us how they feel instead of showing us, with most of the jokes – such as they are – saved for the supporting players.
There is one nice scene at the end where Remsen and Blair Ross, playing Finn’s mother, have a quiet and vulnerable heart-to-heart. And there’s an amusing montage early on, as Emily takes us through a series of awful blind dates. The idea isn’t fresh, but at least the camera moves a bit, and it’s quickly edited. Briefly the movie looks like a movie.
But mostly the film plays like a stitched-together collection of acting exercises, or excerpts from a book of audition pieces. It doesn’t really hold together, and nothing builds — except the audience’s impatience. Long before the film reaches the two-hour mark, you’ll be tempted to shout Toss It, too.