Home Video Hovel: Volley, by Craig Schroeder
The formula for Volley—the new film from Argentinean writer, director and star Martín Piroyansky—is a tried and true storytelling recipe, one that has worked for centuries across every medium. A group of men and women, all with mistaken intentions and hidden agendas, coalesce for a few days of regretful sex, unrequited love and post-coital misunderstanding. And the formula works for large portions of Volley as well, except when it doesn’t.
Volley takes place almost entirely in a single location, a secluded cabin belonging to the grandparents of twenty-something Nicolás (Piroyansky), a perpetually horny beta male. Nicolás invites a motley crew of friends and acquaintances to celebrate the New Year: his ex girl-friend Pilar (Inés Efron), his best friend Nacho (Chino Darín), Nacho’s anal retentive girlfriend Manuela (Violeta Urtizberea), the peculiar Cata (Vera Spinetta) and Pilar’s hyper-sexualized (at least in Nicolás’ mind) friend Belén (Justina Bustos). Each person in the house has sex with at least one other person, and Cave-Nico (an unwanted portmanteau bestowed upon Nicolás after he bloviates that men have evolved to have sex three-hundred and sixty-fives times a year, while women only require it once from a single partner) finds himself sleeping with nearly everyone and making enemies of the entire house.
While the dialogue isn’t equipped with any particular wit or panache, the film gets quite a bit of comedic mileage from its premise. Borrowing heavily from the likes of one William Shakespeare—the misunderstood relationships, emphasis on situation over characters, et al—Volley (so named for a fairly obvious metaphor that manifests in the film’s final act when the group plays a tense game of volleyball) is able to fuse plot and comedy into a singular entity that carries much of the film. However, when there are broad comedic moments, Piroyansky’s shortcomings as a comedy writer become glaring and obvious. On numerous occasions, flatulence and noisy bathroom visits are mainlined into the film’s comedy vein, only to expose a bit of juvenile tendencies but every bit of scatalogical humor falls completely flat. And in some cases, the fart jokes—for lack of a better word—detract from some of the better comedic tension (Nico being forced to hide in a shower only to overhear one of his compatriot’s violent movements is a particularly low point).
Volley can be commended, however, for never judging its characters. All of the characters make mistakes, but the film never once comes close to slut-shaming anyone. However, Piroyansky’s perspective is far too singular, filtering almost every scene through the eyes of Nico. Though Nico is a bit of an asshole (again, lack of a better word) Piroyansky and Nico himself make no pretense about Nico’s asshole-ishness. The final product is a central character who is complex, sympathetic and often infuriating and it allows a great deal of room for Nico’s opinions on love, sex and relationships to evolve. However, the focus on Nico renders every other character into one-dimensional affectations or character quirks. Belén becomes “the hot one”, Pilar “the ex”, Cata “the weird one” (who fades into the background more than anyone else) and Manuela “the moody one”. For a film that relies so heavily on complicated relationships, turning the peripheral characters into cinematic archetypes is detrimental to the story’s character development and eventual pay-off; resulting in a conclusion that isn’t as weighty as Piroyansky probably intended.
There’s a lot of good in Volley (and plenty of reasons to keep an eye on what Piroyansky does next), but there are just too many novice storytelling mistakes. Volley is, by no means, a film to avoid, but it’s also not one worth seeking out either.