Friday, October 30, 1998

A peek behind the personals

Movie: Unmade Beds

Posted on Fri, Oct 30, 1998 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

Laugh at the hapless protagonists of "Unmade Beds" at your own risk. The four frustrated singles profiled in director Nicholas Barker's semidocumentary exhibit plenty of ridiculous attitudes and behaviors as they scour the personal ads in search of a love connection. A few hours spent with them is enough to convince even the most insensitive soul that their inner loneliness is far from unique.

Like a box of bitter candy, the choices for self-recognition are plentiful. Perhaps it's the 5-foot-4-inch Michael (Michael De Stephano) with whom you identify, as he struggles with a king-sized inferiority complex that's inversely proportional to his height. Or maybe Aimee (Aimee Copp) is closer to the mark, dwelling on her mistreatment at the hands of men in order to mask the shame of her 225-pound weight.

Refugees of the swinging '60s have Mikey (Michael Russo) for company, a rapidly aging Lothario who could have settled down with any one of three beautiful women if he hadn't been so intent on having all of them at once. The relatively confident are left with Brenda (Brenda Monte), a divorced, brutally honest Italian sexpot who's searching for a man to pay the bills while she makes ends meet by shoplifting dog food. "They're God's creatures," she reasons. "I shouldn't have to pay for it."

Material this hilariously tragic just has to be true. And it is, after a fashion: Barker found his leads by placing his own ad seeking the firsthand testimony of past personal ad perusers. Some were actors and some were not, but all four were allowed to play out their real-life misadventures according to the loosest possible scripted framework. The resulting monologues are just presentational enough to keep "Beds" out of the realm of cinema verité, yet sufficiently naturalistic to grasp the heart and the funny bone with a strong, sure hand.

Any notion that this is mere comedy evaporates when Aimee collapses in sobs in front of her girlfriend, wailing that the passage of time has ensured that she'll never celebrate a golden anniversary with anyone. When her friend dares to even tentatively suggest that dropping some weight might help, however, Aimee turns so instantly and viciously indignant that we see right through to the undirected resentment that drives her every move. Even for a woman who claims to be seriously mulling a sperm donation from a gay friend to satisfy her maternal urges, it's clear that self-improvement is simply not an option. Like the other three stars of this terrifically incisive film, she lies in the bed she's made.

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