LA Film Fest 2016: The Sweet Life, by David Bax
It would have been enough for Rob Spera’s The Sweet Life to be a boring, unoriginal, self-consciously “dark” comedy for mopey drama club teenagers. But then it had to go and be offensively reductive about depression and mental health.
Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer star as Kenny and Lolita, two suicidal people who meet cute on a bridge over the Chicago River, steal a car and, despite their differences, decide to take a road trip to San Francisco in order to throw themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, The Sweet Life is the “It Happened One Night but with people who plan to kill themselves” you’ve been begging for.
There’s nothing keeping Kenny and Lolita in Chicago, which we know because they say so and because it makes sense, given that beings of pure screenwriter fabrication traditionally have trouble making friends. Still, Messina and Spencer are talented actors who, despite the anchor of a screenplay, manage to physically convey more from beneath their layered wardrobes than the dialogue offers them.
The jaunty, whimsical score by Jeff Beal is almost too much take, with its insistent and intentional incongruity pleading with us to find the humor in the situation. There is, at least, some to be found, mostly when Kenny and Lolita get to interact with other people, like the hitchhiking, redneck gay couple played by J.D. Evermore and Tyson Ritter.
In the third act, though, things must get maudlin for real, not just for show. It’s here that the film turns from uninspired to insulting. Kenny and Lolita must each face the person who abandoned them (a fiancee for him; a mother for her). The suggestion of such a simplistic causal relationship as the source of depression is both clueless and risible. The Sweet Life mocks its subject and its audience alike.