J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Slamdance ’16: Chemical Cut

LA’s superficial world of modeling is like a pouty Logan’s Run. Irene signed just in time, with only one year of youthful eligibility left before “aging out” of the business. Unfortunately, she will not be frolicking in the stately pleasure dome. Instead, the novice model will be constantly exploited in former America’s Next Top Model contestant Marjorie Conrad’s Chemical Cut, which screened during the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival.

Irene’s life before modelling was pretty depressing. She worked in retail and spent most her free time being demeaned by her toxic platonic pal, Arthur. One day, she gets a platinum blonde dye job on a whim. Shortly thereafter, Jared, a dodgy modeling agent slips her his card. Figuring she has nothing to lose, she signs with the obnoxious predator. However, since Jared constantly books her for “free tests,” Irene starts burning through her savings with no future income in sight. Initially, it seems like a godsend when Spring, a more established, better paid model takes Irene under her wing, but she also turns out to be a real user.

Evidently, modelling is a tough racket. If this is breaking news for you, than Chemical has even more disillusionments coming down the pike. Of course, for most of us living in the grown-up world, this is pretty standard stuff. It is all largely presented without humor, allowing viewers little consolation as we witness the pathetic embarrassments rained down upon poor Irene.

As a result, Chemical Cut just isn’t much fun. Conrad might be photogenic, but she is a bit of a shrinking violet on the big screen. At least she is endurable, which is more than can be said for Ian Coster, who is like fingernails on a blackboard as the screechy Arthur. Although her character Spring is a real self-centered pill, only Leah Rudick seems capable of sustaining a long-term relationship with the movie camera.

As a cautionary tale, Chemical is relentless, but as drama, it is kind of pokey. To be fair, the lack of redeemable or compelling characters probably makes it feel slower than it really is. Frankly, spending time with these people is a chore—Irene included. Too shallow to be a teachable film and too downbeat to be a comedy, Chemical is tragically half-pregnant. It means well, but that does not get the audience very far. Conrad’s TV modelling credentials will probably earn it a few looks from programmers, but it will not make much noise on the festival circuit after premiering at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.