The phrase “coming of age” when used in relation to film is meant to convey a youthful approach, a young protagonist, perhaps someone who has yet to get their driver’s license, lose their virginity, or finish college. But to ignore the fluid nature of our older years is to suggest that people will inevitably stop growing, and that’s never the case. In this case, there is Meris, the protagonist of “Rid Of Me,” freshly married, and willing to return to her husband’s hometown to live a quiet life of marital bliss.
What she doesn’t count on is how husband Mitch has already prepared himself for re-assimilation, easily fitting within the group of friends he’s left behind. Boisterous, competitive, and casually racist, none of them seem to have grown a bit from the beginnings of their incestuous unions, all of them paired off, their ignorance now domesticated. The handsome, athletic Mitch, who demurs to their social aggression, is a perfect fit. Meris is not.
Wiry and urbane, Meris doesn’t fit with the rest of the females, they of full figure and gauche makeup. A stay-at-home cook, as she describes herself, Meris has both too many interests (sensitivity, intellectual curiosity) and not enough (can’t throw a baseball) to appease this group. The sensitive Meris begins to self-doubt, while attempting to cook for dinner parties, tend to a garden and relate to her husband’s indifferent crew. All the while, Katie O’Grady’s excellent performance portrays these superficial alterations covering up the subconscious feeling she doesn’t know who she is anymore.
It’s impossible to avoid the comparisons, as Meris attempts to sow her midlife oats in the face of heartbreak, that she bares a strong resemblance to Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids.” In addition to the same tight, expressive lips, hyper-aware eyes and casual Olive Oyl beauty, both endure a humiliating bottoming-out after relationship troubles. Meris’ struggles are more existential than class-based, however; she finds employment in a candy store where a young fellow female employee develops a semi-flirty relationship, the two trading dark eye shadow and nail polish while bar-hopping.
Most of “Rid Of Me” occurs in borderline montage, director James Westby using music video and the medium to convey Meris’ fluid nature. Also experimenting with tone, he utilizes multiple takes and extreme close-ups to convey the horror of discomforting confrontations. If you knew nothing about “Rid Of Me” going in, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a full-blown horror film. It wouldn’t be necessarily appreciative if you viewed the film straight, however — “Rid Of Me” takes it’s story to such dark places exaggerated and plucked from reality that it reveals itself as a stark black comedy.
Most of this stems from the versatile O’Grady, who comically (and sometimes tragically) plays Meris as a wallflower early on, and a Joan Jett-style hell-raiser as the film continues: memorably, this is teased in the opening scene, and yet when we are given a full introduction to Meris, they seem like two completely different actresses. Even with that personality shift, “Rid Of Me” seems to be about how one woman avoids chasing what she wants.
Westby is no doubt working on a compromised budget. The supporting cast seems thickened by amateurs, where sheepish and inexperienced Everclear frontman Art Alexakis counts as star power. Most of the bar scenes are poorly lit, and there’s the feeling one or two of the later montages is the result of excessive coverage capturing very little usable footage. But “Rid Of Me” has a pep in its step, mostly due to the winning O’Grady. Even when she’s smearing her menstrual blood on a woman’s face as a sign of punk rock defiance, she’s instantly likable and compellingly watchable, clearly not someone you’d want to be rid of anytime soon. [B]