In a year that has seen quite a number of films tackle the subject of addiction, Unlovable goes in a different route than one might expect: humor.
Sex and love is never quite enough for Joy (Charlene deGuzman) no matter how hard she tries to fill this hole. This is the thing about addiction–even when you think you have enough, there’s a need for more. The film starts out with Joy penning her suicide letter even though she never goes through with it. Unfortunately for Joy, it’s this need for more that ends up ruining her life and maybe for the worse. She loses her job, her home, and her most recent boyfriend. All because of love. Or the lack of enough love.
Coming to accept that the only way to better her way of life is to get help, Joy checks into a 12-step addiction program for sex and love. This is where she finds a mentor in Maddie (Melissa Leo). As reluctant as Maddie may be at first, she eventually decides to sponsor Joy. Maddie also becomes a rescuer of sorts for Joy in letting her stay in her grandmother’s guesthouse. It was never meant to be a permanent option anyway. The only rule is that Joy agrees to a promise of going without sex or love for 30 days . Easier said than done, right?
It’s only when Joy finds a drum kit at the house when her starts to change. What is it they say about strange bedfellows? The drums happen to belong to Maddie’s brother, Jim (John Hawkes). He also happens to be a bit of a recluse.
This film, based on actress Charlene deGuzman’s personal story, has two things going for it: heart and humor. As is the case with any addiction film, the script requires a balance between the serious and the humor. Unlovable certainly has that going for it. After all, this is a film that deals heavily with the human connection. Yet Joy is the one who struggles with such connection even when people are within arm’s reach depending on where you place your phone.
It’s not an easy subject to tackle but director Suzi Yoonessi does so beautifully. Moira Morel’s cinematography also helps to capture Joy’s worldview. Music is never an easy thing to direct on film but this is another area where the film excels. It’s not a musical per se but the film would not work without Hawkes’ original music contributions.
The best work comes from authentic performances rather than from those who try and get into the heads of the people they’re trying to be. It’s from this lived experience that Charlene deGuzman draws on to bring us Joy in Unlovable and we’re all the better for it.
DIRECTOR: Suzi Yoonessi
SCREENWRITERS: Charlene deGuzman, Sarah Adina Smith, Mark Duplass
CAST: Charlene deGuzman, John Hawkes, Paul James, with Ellen Geer and Melissa Leo