Newly Single

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Newly Single
"Clark steers his course carefully both as a writer and as an actor."

Astor (Adam Christian Clark) would tell you, without the least attempt at deception, that he's a nice guy. So why doesn't Valerie (Molly C Quinn) want to be with him any more? Clearly she's being unreasonable. He finds himself in a mess as a result. Either she doesn't pick up when he phones in the middle of the night or she just doesn't seem interested in listening, as if she doesn't care about his side of the story or how much he's hurting now. It's a distraction he doesn't need when he's on the brink of making his next movie, starring up-and-coming teenage talent. But he's not completely impractical about these things; he recognises that it's time to get back out there on the dating scene. There's just one puzzle he can't solve that keeps getting in the way: why don't other women want to be with him either?

Actually, that's not quite true. He's not hideous to look at. He's in reasonable shape. Some women think he's really funny with his outré comments about gender politics - at least until they begin to realise that he might be serious. Others consider him perfectly good material for a quick, no-strings fuck, but seem curiously disinterested in spending any time with him afterwards. Sometimes he's the one who loses interest first. What is it with women who want to talk over his stories or - even worse - talk to him about the superior accomplishments of other men?

Clark's coruscating black comedy is the story of superficially presentable man - not a murderer, rapist or right wing extremist - whose masculinity is nonetheless so toxic that it poisons everything around him, not least himself. Some people reportedly find it hard to watch because its observations are so sharp - it's just too familiar - but an early conversation in which Astor begs Valerie to return to him because it's cold being alone in winter, and compares his plight to that of Syrian refugees, makes it difficult to mistake him for someone we're supposed to take seriously. The line is a fine one, of course, especially given the Los Angeles setting - what might seem obvious satire elsewhere is confounded by the fact that one can't spend long around the film industry without encountering men who have even more ludicrously inflated ideas of their own importance - but Clark steers his course carefully both as a writer and as an actor.

He also manages to bring out moments of humanity in Astor that make us feel for him despite everything - we may not ever want to be around him but he does evoke a kind of pity. Telephone conversations with his mother, who may still be supporting him financially, suggest that there may be a family history of such problems and make clear that he has always been indulged, never given useful guidance. The most tragic part of the film, however, centres on his interactions with Izzy (Jennifer Kim), a sexually submissive woman who is actually drawn to his obnoxiousness. She's an extremely rare example of a well written sub in cinema, a woman who is under no illusions and knows exactly what she wants, defying popular assumptions about coercion and complicating racial stereotypes. The lengths to which Astor goes to destroy this connection as well point to something truly pathological at work within him.

Newly Single is getting a release through Amazon in the run up to Christmas and almost feels like a reverse It's A Wonderful Life as its protagonist compulsively pushes boundaries until he alienates or discovers how little he is worth to everyone around him. The fact that there are men who will watch this film and not get it at all only highlights its relevance. Clark's performance at the centre is a brave undertaking - few actors would feel comfortable inhabiting such a character for long, or leaving themselves so completely exposed. The result is a powerful piece of work, as darkly hilarious as it is bleak.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2018
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Following an unhappy break-up, film producer Astor struggles to find a new relationship, largely thanks to his own behaviour.

Director: Adam Christian Clark

Writer: Adam Christian Clark

Starring: Adam Christian Clark, Jennifer Kim, Molly C Quinn, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Rémy Bennett

Year: 2017

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US

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