The first images of "Easier with Practice" paint a deceptive picture. Are those the cracked, dusty oils of Ruben-esque shapes hanging in a museum? The ripple and wave of a Botticelli beauty? Nope. What at first appears to be snippets of classic artwork are actually the worn, scratched, dog-eared splendor of romance novel covers. First time writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has entranced his audience with the minutia of erotica in all its bodice-ripping glory.
It's a tangled fan dance that Alvarez continues for the rest of the film, beguiling his audience with what seems to be simple and recognizable, until closer inspection.
"Easier with Practice," winner of the Grand Jury Prize at CineVegas in 2009, is an adaption of the autobiographical 2006 GQ article "What Are You Wearing?" by Davy Rothbart. Renamed Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty), the film begins with the writer on a road trip to promote his as-yet-unpublished series of short stories, accompanied by his tail-chasing younger brother, Sean (Kel O'Neill).
What might be an uneventful tour of sparsely attended readings at bookstores and college campuses becomes life changing when crumpled, profoundly withdrawn Davy gets an anonymous phone call in his motel room one night and "meets" Nicole. Within seconds, they're having a conversation that usually costs $1.99 a minute and begins with a 976 prefix, but soon those phone calls become Davy's one true life line, his only connection to a world that seems to almost drown him.
While it's a concept that could have easily been a National Lampoon movie, the phone sex in the film is less about titillation than it is about the seeming impossibility of human connection as we witness the ultimate intimacy, masked in distance and detachment. The deeper their relationship, the more Davy retreats, his discomfort with real human connection and contact growing, along with a deep yearning for what Nicole offers.
While thoughtful writing and assured direction by Alvarez lay a solid groundwork, the film's true revelation is Geraghty, an actor who's built a career on his ability to transmit an innate, immutable goodness and vulnerability. While he was excellent as the beating, bleeding heart of "The Hurt Locker," this film's believability rests entirely on his ability to convey a sea of emotion during one side of a phone call.
Actors run from CGI dinosaurs and exploding buildings all the time, but how often do you see someone live out the heartbreaking elation of falling in lopsided, disembodied love? Often held in a single, static shot that inches closer and closer, held for excruciatingly long, personal minutes, Geraghty’s Davy flies like a kamikaze between terror and euphoria, all the while eager to please and utterly out of his depth, cocooned in loneliness, desperate yet incapable of connection.
It's that beautiful awkwardness that makes "Easier with Practice" both disquietingly honest and memorable.
"Easier with Practice" opens in limited release Feb. 26