Low-life characters are rarely simultaneously pitiable and entertaining like the garrulous Andrew (Andrew Von Urtz), the wannabe filmmaker at the center of Ramin Serry's chatty comedy "Loveless." The movie, Serry's second after the 2002 Iranian immigration tale "Maryam," can't keep up with Andrew's wit. However, for a good bulk of the running time Serry's script glides along on the aging sleaze-bag's indifference to his encroaching adulthood before the film loses focus.
First seen pitching a non-existent movie to some clueless woman at a bar, Andrew actually works a dead-end job in a drab Manhattan office. As smart-talking nobodies go, he's the cream of the crop, a shameless womanizer eager to trade barbs with co-workers and longtime friends alike when they confront him about shucking off his responsibilities. With his droopy expression and deadpan wit, he resembles a more haggard Jason Bateman.
The story initially tracks Andrew's relentless smarminess as a defense mechanism to stave off critical colleagues. When an old friend says he was spotted with an unknown blonde, he responds, "That's my shrink." Told of a "restless look" in his eyes, he shoots back, "It's called a hard-on for knowledge." And so on.
But "Loveless" takes a series of strange turns when Andrew follows the feisty young Ava (Genevieve Hudson-Price) from a chance encounter at a bar to her swanky apartment on the promise of a house party, which turns out to be the bizarrely cultish birthday celebration for Ava's thuggish older brother Ricky (Scott Cohen). While still entranced by Ava, Andrew grows increasingly intimidated by her mysterious family, a protective bunch seemingly convinced that they can casually communicate with their dead father. At times it seems as if Ricky has a greater interest in Andrew than his sister, stalking him at work for undetermined reasons.
Outside these off-beat encounters, "Loveless" proceeds like a messy younger sibling of Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" as it tracks Andrew's ongoing denial of the mounting pressures to settle down, many of which come from his reasonably sane ex, Joanna (Cindy Chastain). Serry's plot really takes off when he manages to merge the Ava/Joanna stories during a prolonged bit in which Andrew ditches the city for a getaway with Joanna and begins to feel paranoid about the possibility that Ava's family has followed him. Whether he's losing his mind or has a legitimate reason to freak out, the movie's fleeting status as a comic thriller makes its study of a mid-life crisis in action suddenly come to life.
Later scenes hold less unique appeal. When the affluent Ricky commandeers Andrew's life and forces him to make a different movie than one he planned, "Loveless" veers into a meandering final act that's only redeemed by the candid emotion captured in its final shots. By then, it's too late to redeem "Loveless" from its confusing nature as a few good ideas buried in a mass of dead ends—not unlike Andrew's life, but less persistently amusing.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? After a very under-the-radar reception on the festival circuit, "Loveless" has begun to make its way into a handful of theaters via self-distribution, including Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub and the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. A few good crowds at those theaters might be the full extent of its audience, but it has already succeeded at establishing both Serry and lead actor Von Urtz as talents to watch.
criticWIRE grade: B