J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hard Sell: The Beautiful and the Nebbish on Long Island

Most average folk would qualify as poor relations in this tony corner of Long Island, but Hardy Buchanan would probably live on the wrong side of the tracks in any town. Life is hard when you have a mentally ill mother, a terminally ill dog, and an aggressively unattractive personality. However, when the Hardy boy meets an older bombshell in trouble, he leverages her beauty for quick cash in a PG sort of way, until life really gets complicated in Sean Nalaboff’s Hard Sell (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

It is really Buchanan who takes care of his mother Lorna rather than vice versa, yet Ms. Buchanan often seems to have more affection for their shaggy dog Walter. Unfortunately, Walter hasn’t simply lost a step to old age. He needs surgery quickly, but Buchanan cannot afford it. Frankly, it is unclear how the Buchanans keep food on the table, given her flakiness. Presumably, he is a scholarship student at the elitist prep school he attends, which would partially explain his social pariah status.

Providentially, Buchanan meets Bo while volunteering at a local homeless shelter for the sake of his college application resume. She is way, way out of his league, but she isn’t just a fellow volunteer, she is also a short term resident. She claims to be a stripper, as any twentysomething beauty would, so Buchanan starts charging his well-heeled classmates for brief look-sees. Soon, he even starts brokering chaste escort gigs. Of course, none of this is sustainable, especially as both Lorna and Walter Buchanan’s conditions worsen. There is also a concerned uncle out there looking for a young woman who matches Bo’s description.

As far as we know, Bo was not sexually abused by her father or uncle, which earns Hard Sell points for originality. That third act revelation is getting awfully tired, especially since it is largely an act of projection on Hollywood’s part, if you believe Corey Feldman. On the other hand, Hard Sell will seem ridiculously tame for anyone raised on Risky Business and National Lampoon movies. Seriously, don’t these rich Hamptons kids have the internet?

Perhaps more problematically, Hard Sell pretends to treat mental health issues with all due gravity, unless you happen to be really hot like Bo, in which case its fine to be a little cuckoo. As a result, the film often feels like a disingenuous after school special.

As Lorna Buchanan, Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth unleashes her inner trailer trash Bette Davis, which is certainly an impressive spectacle. Katrina Bowden is obviously comfortable playing the cool attractive chick (and there are probably worse roles to be type-cast in). Old Walter probably deserves consideration for those year-end animal performer awards, gimmicky as they may be. That leaves consideration of Skyler Gisondo’s shticky, whiny performance as Hardy Buchanan, which we would indeed like to leave by the side of the road.

Despite his status as a put-upon doormat, the extent to which Nalaboff leaves issues in Hardy Buchanan’s miserable life unresolved will annoy most viewers. Still, even with its faults, Hard Sell is vastly superior to the cloying Waiting for Forever, which is a weirdly fitting comparison film. Not recommended, Hard Sell opens this Friday (5/20) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.