“A depressing romantic film about depressing people.”
In his feature debut In Stereo, writer-director Mel Rodriguez III tells a tedious and unconventional story of two insufferable lovers who are clearly meant for each other. Intended to be romantic comedy, the film is divided into three chapters: David, Brenda, and David and Brenda. After its amusing prologue, it details the separate lives of each character and how they eventually end up together in the final chapter.
Set in New York City, the film opens with David (Micah Hauptman) going home to his apartment to see his girlfriend Brenda (Beau Garrett) asleep on his couch. Rousing up, Brenda tells him how sorry she is that she had accidentally burned a towel on his lamp earlier that day. The entire building had to be evacuated when the fire alarm set off. Brenda surprises David further by asking him that they move in together. The camera then zooms and freezes on David’s horrified face.
In “David,” the film moves forward eighteen months later and unfortunately, the two do not end up together. David is now sharing his apartment with his live-in girlfriend Jennifer (Melissa Bolona) who is cheating on him with his rich best friend Chris (Kieran Campion). As a gifted photographer, he is working on an intriguing project by taking snaps of random people. Countless times, this and his developed habit of provoking people, especially strangers, earn him a good punch, a split lip, or a black eye. In one sequence, David even appears to be homophobic. No wonder, he is under therapy with shrink Dr. Garrett (Sean Cullen).
In “Brenda,” it appears that the female protagonist is also having troubles of her own. Due to her unpleasant work attitudes, her agent (Mario Cantone) informs her via phone that she just got fired from her job as a reality-TV show host. With her career on rocks, she resorts to auditioning for a commercial about genital herpes. Worse, she is about to be kicked off from her apartment.
In “David and Brenda,” the two bumps into each other on the street. David invites her to his upcoming photography show. Both keep close contact with each other as they sort out their own lives. On the eve of his show, David finally breaks up with Jennifer and Brenda moves in with him. Wanting to remain friends, the two decide to keep their relationship purely sexual. But as the days progress, they discover the complexities of their own setup.
In Stereo, revolving mostly around David and Brenda, is a frustrating story of relationships, giving us warming messages about how we can hurt the people who we care about. It is sad underneath but chaotic on the surface. “David” is particularly messy and confusing. The time-twisted storytelling adds to disorder as this chapter does not synch in with the preface. However, “Brenda” provides clarity in the narrative, shedding light to the confusion and directing us to a clean road. In “David and Brenda,” scenes become warmer and more affecting. But then, the film betrays itself with an annoyingly ambiguous ending.
The movie wants to be relatable, thinking that it speaks of universal truths. In essence, it is not the general case as David and Brenda are both depressed and angry people whose tender and humane moments are only when they are together. They have such bad personalities – Brenda’s conceitedness and temper cost her career, while David’s coldness and immaturities jeopardize his relationship with Jennifer. The film tries to make them victims by demonizing Jennifer, hardening Chris and making complications of things. But in the final analysis, everything is a consequence of bad and selfish decisions.
Hauptman successfully delivers an unpleasant David with his lazy stance and rude texture. But Garrett shines brighter with her abrasiveness and delicateness in portraying Brenda. Newcomer Bolona is also striking as Jennifer who, in more unbiased perspective, has played an emotional punching bag for David. Despite his boring role as a rich kid who seems bored with everything including sex with a hot chick, Campion manages to effectively channel Chris’ inner turmoil and struggles.
While trying to be both romantic and funny, In Stereo only ends up full of negativities and frustration. David and Brenda, who are both unstable and miserable, have issues and pains which can only be eased when they are together. They never learn as they continue a cycle of immature actions and decisions. In effect, we can only watch them in annoyance and dissatisfaction.