Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

LAFF REVIEW | Amber Sealey and Kent Osborne Make a Provocative Marital Drama in "How to Cheat"

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire June 19, 2011 at 3:02AM

"How to Cheat," Amber Sealey's intriguing sophomore feature following her directorial debut "A Plus D," looks like an annoying retread of DIY tropes until it manages to defy them. The opening scene finds Mark (Kent Osborne) bouncing around his Los Angeles backyard in his birthday suit, striking a comical "seize the day" pose before heading off to his droll job as the driver for a car service. With his goofy demeanor masking a deeper yearning to enjoy life, Mark initially resembles the star of Joe Swanberg's "Uncle Kent," a 40-year-old bachelor also played by Osborne. Fortunately, Sealey hasn't made a sequel set in Swanbergville. "How to Cheat" travels much deeper than that.
0

"How to Cheat," Amber Sealey's intriguing sophomore feature following her directorial debut "A Plus D," looks like an annoying retread of DIY tropes until it manages to defy them. The opening scene finds Mark (Kent Osborne) bouncing around his Los Angeles backyard in his birthday suit, striking a comical "seize the day" pose before heading off to his droll job as the driver for a car service. With his goofy demeanor masking a deeper yearning to enjoy life, Mark initially resembles the star of Joe Swanberg's "Uncle Kent," a 40-year-old bachelor also played by Osborne. Fortunately, Sealey hasn't made a sequel set in Swanbergville. "How to Cheat" travels much deeper than that.

Unlike Osborne's "Uncle Kent" character, Mark actually has a life, if not a particularly great one. In between shuttling clients around town, he adheres to a strict schedule for sex that his wife, Beth (Sealey), regularly enforces. Their unsuccessful attempts to get her pregnant introduce an awkward tension to the couple's relationship, particularly due to the lingering grief caused by a miscarriage Beth experienced a year earlier. Minutes before dashing off to work, she forces Mark to engage in a mechanical quickie, presumably a usual scene in their household. "It's like washing a dog in a bathtub," he complains to a friend.

Initially, Sealey uses this scenario to construct a rambling comedy with flashes of subversive wit. Revealing Beth's miscarriage to the same friend, Mark makes the absurd claim that he senses the dead infant in the room when the couple has sex. "Get an exorcist," comes the reply. Instead, he concludes that he should have an affair.

It's here that "How to Cheat" invites comparisons to "The Freebie," Katie Aselton's grim marriage drama about a young couple who decide to try out an open relationship. However, Mark's motivation runs much deeper than simple horniness. "I would love to feel guilty," he tells his therapist, expressing an apparent hope to enliven his life by courting danger.

At first, he has little success. Landing a handful of dates through the Internet, he routinely owns up about his intentions and scares off one prospect after another. He finally gets his groove back by meeting the strangely alluring Louise (newcomer Amanda Street, in a fascinatingly offbeat role), a woman initially uncool to Mark's scheme before relishing the opportunity to exploit his desire.

Shot on digital video with a scrappy, handmade look, "How to Cheat" has plenty of rough patches, including an on-the-nose sequence in which Mark drapes himself in toilet paper and stumbles around the house as a mummy. But the quirk is overtaken by the larger dramatic scope. Sealey unapologetically takes the mold of a microbudget comedy in several directions, using the couple's unstable marriage to stabilize the pace. When Mark lands in the sack with Louise, the liaison leads to unexpected results, and "How to Cheat" adopts the eerie atmosphere of a sexual thriller. Then it retreats back to the marital tension where it began, setting the stage for a third act twist loaded with provocative uncertainty that gives the movie a captivating edge.

Sealey's patient screenplay has a clean, intelligent structure that could easily become watered down for Hollywood treatment, but she defies expectations with a suitably ambiguous conclusion. From Mark's conundrum, the story shifts to Beth's point of view, and her reaction to their unfolding drama makes it unclear whether her husband actually cheated or inadvertently got something right.

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Premiering at the L.A. Film Festival's narrative competition, "How to Cheat" is destined to play well on the remaining festival circuit this year and possibly find its way to a VOD deal, which is its best bet at getting broader attention.

criticWIRE grade: B+

Check out these prior participants in the Los Angles Film Festival, courtesy of SnagFilms [Disclaimer: SnagFilms is indiewire's parent company]
Watch more free documentaries

This article is related to: Reviews, Los Angeles Film Festival






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More