Stage Adaptation Can’t Imagine Rom-Com Success
DIRECTED BY BRUCE GUTHRIE, ALAN HRUSKA/2014
In the world of “indie filmmaking”, there are some pretty readily identifiable tiers. There is of course the Sony Pictures Classics level of indies – the kind of films with budgets reaching well into the millions, featuring recognizable stars and often boasting a theatrical art house run. Then there are the true indies, perhaps the “pure indies” – films made for virtually no money, and very little in the way of other resources, yet thrust into being by the enduring passion of their creators. Unfortunately, even when these films know their limits, the seams still end up very much showing. The Man on Her Mind is just an effort.
Filmmakers Alan Hruska (an experienced director) and Bruce Guthrie (not so much) were wise enough to contain their obviously no-budget talky “intellectual rom-com” to a handful locations, keeping with a very small cast. The result, however, is a stagey final product that feels both hastily made and cheap. Having worked on several such productions myself, I can, while fully sympathizing with the filmmakers making due with what they have, probably safely observe that this is because the production likely was indeed hastily made, and cheap.
If The Man on Her Mind feels theatrical in nature, complete with a lot of scrunchy-faced over-delivery on behalf of the actors, look no further than the first page of the end credits, citing the film as an adaptation of a recent stage play, complete with the same cast, writer (Hruska) and director (Guthrie). Although all have worked in film before, they likely weren’t given the proper time to shake their stagey realizations of these characters. It doesn’t help that the snappy banter (think aspiring Preston Sturges or I.A.L. Diamond) isn’t as witty as it thinks it is, and the many conversations do drag on.
Another major setback that the film cannot overcome is budgetary. This being the story of five very financially well-off New Yorkers, it doesn’t work that they’re supposed to have far more money than the movie apparently does. And I’m sorry, but this being a romantic comedy, there’s a broad expectation for a certain high-end dress code. Frankly, these people should have better clothes. All the men are dressed like Paul Reiser, and it looks like all the women ran into Target.
The shame of it is, somewhere in The Man on Her Mind, there’s a good idea for a romantic comedy. The young protagonist, Nellie (Amy McAllister), greatly prefers the company of her imaginary lover Jack to the toadie charms of her perpetual courter, Leonard (Samuel James). But the thing is, Jack, in all his suit-wearing sleekness, is in fact a version of Leonard. And then we come to find out that Leonard, in his lonely frustration, has been carrying on with a fifty percent less shrewish imaginary version of Nellie.
Overly-involved mutual friends/family members Janet and Frank (Georgia Mackenzie and Shane Attwooll) come around to nag both them individually and together. Over the film’s 98 minute running time, just about every possible combination of characters conversing seems to happen, including meetings between the two imaginary friends. (!) Jarringly, the story buckles against its genre’s conventions, but in a way that torpedoes the sole interesting aspect of the film. I imagine the filmmakers (and Hruska’s original play) were opting to be riskier, and go “deeper” with their romantic comedy. Any success they had with this material on stage veers into whatever woods uptown New York has to offer. (A note to the art department: Next time at least untie the visually diverting red sashes from the background trees.)
Again, having worked on the production of a few films comparable to this one, I do know full well the limitations and challenges of this level of filmmaking. So although it may not seem like it, The Man on Her Mind is fortunate to have me doing this critique as opposed to someone who would simply mercilessly eviscerate it for its unavoidable shortcomings. But it’s the avoidable shortcomings that are the real problems – script, performance, visual direction, etc. Even no-budget movies can overcome these hurdles. As for The Man on Her Mind, it should’ve re-imagined itself on stage a little longer before taking this anti-cinematic curtain call.