Flourish (2006) / Comedy-Mystery
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for language, some violence and sexual references
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Ian Brennan, Leighton Meester, Olivia Burnette, Victoria Kelleher, Connie Ray, Jesse Spencer, Daniel Roebuck
Director: Kevin Palys
Screenplay: Kevin Palys
Review published April 4, 2007
Jennifer Morrison (Surviving Christmas, Grind) stars as Gabrielle, a tutor hired to baby-sit a precocious 16-year-old girl named Lucy (Hangman's Curse, Drive-Thru) while her parents attend a funeral. Something calamitous occurs, the disappearance of a teenage girl, during the evening that sees Gabrielle, now being kept in a hospital psych ward, being questioned for her knowledge of the events surrounding it for the purposes of a documentary. Deliberately, she relates her story from the beginning, about how she couldn't find the keys to the car she shares with her roommate (Burnette, Planes Trains and Automobiles), her roommate's boyfriend (Spencer, Uptown Girls) being sick, and the car eventually being stolen by Lucy's boyfriend (Brennan, Too Much Flesh), who is trying to recover a mysterious envelope that Lucy's father's mistress (Kelleher) is supposed to have in her possession.
Flourish is billed as a comic mystery, although I'm not entirely sure it is playing for laughs. The only mystery I couldn't instantly figure out is what the point of Kevin Palys's mental exercise is. Flourish's official website discusses how it is about "chaos", and how "things need to makes sense", "have endings", and how there should be "meaning in the mess". Certainly, a well-told story should have a point, I agree, but if there's a point to be made, it shouldn't just be that stories are pointless when told by people without all of their faculties.
For a film about the nature of fiction, reality, and the imperfection in stories when the teller is providing all of the details, but not fully in control of her own mind, what we learn in the end is that one shouldn't trust what someone else is telling you, especially if that person is sitting in a psychiatric ward. 95 minutes is how long it takes for Palys to come up with the "flourish", aka the big finale that has us questioning everything that comes before. Sadly, this is not the next Usual Suspects -- more like "unusual and suspect" as far as psychological dramas go.
Problems with Flourish lie predominantly in its script, which is neither as funny nor as interesting as it must have seemed in the conception stages. The most amusing recurring gag, though very mild, comes through potentially mentally-impaired Gabrielle's penchant for words that sound smart, but are completely made up, like "realistical". Palys's direction fares much better, and there are plenty of talented and attractive actors to being the story to life. If only there were a rooting interest in the events as they play out, Flourish had the talent to make this an independent film worth hunting around for.
At its core, the film is a mystery, although it's not readily discernible just what the mystery is until late in the story, and even when revealed, why it is significant. In a bit of irony, it's interesting to note that, just as Gabrielle is eager to deliver the "big bang" of an ending to the mystery for the interviewer to find nothing but dissatisfaction, so too is Palys's own as it is laid out in revelatory fashion. Except it isn't much of a revelation -- it's the cinematic equivalent of a shaggy-dog story.
The story is weird and semi-comic because its teller, Gabrielle, is weird and semi-comic, I suppose. As the subject for a short film, perhaps this might have reaped some rewards for viewers. After an hour and a half of following an assortment of red herrings, perhaps a more substantial "flourish" isn't just "realistical" to expect, it's "mandatorical".
©2007 Vince Leo