Friday February 20, 1998
comedy of eros, an amusing and mischievous look at the push-pull ambivalence and confusion that accompanies the quest for pure and perfect romance in a world that values physical thrills, not eternal commitment.
Written, directed, co-produced, edited and just about willed into existence by 27-year-old Julie Davis, "I Love You" is also the debut of a fresh new voice, one that's honest, sexy and consistently funny.
One of the hits of the American Spectrum section at last year's Sundance Film Festival, Davis' warm and playful examination of the complications of intimacy benefits from its heroine's high energy; it's also welcome for showing the comic side of searching for love in unlikely places from a young woman's point of view.
Twenty-five-year-old aspiring singer Katie (Marla Schaffel) no sooner appears on screen than her voice-over is insisting, "I can't help it, I'm a romantic. I'm in love with love." A charming theory, but hell to put into practice in the real world, where Katie's personal life is a self-described "romantic holocaust."
In the four years since she broke up with the man she thought she loved, it seems that every guy Katie's met (some of whom amusingly appear on screen) is either "a troll, a pervert or a liar." Complicating her love life is Katie's virginity and her determination that everything be perfect for the first time.
You'd think (or at least hope) that Katie's friends would be sympathetic to her situation, but they're not. Janet (Meredith Scott Lynn), a fellow office temp, thinks all this insistence on love before sex is a way of hiding from the joie de vivre that only the physical act can provide, and Katie's sexually active neighbor Jones (Darryl Theirse) definitely agrees.
And then there's the Ben question. A decent, caring guy who's more attractive spiritually than physically, Ben (Mitchell Whitfield) is Katie's best friend, someone she knows far too well to consider as romantic material. "Sexual attraction," she says with typical confidence, "is not negotiable."
Ben thinks otherwise, but when he insists he's in love with Katie, she insists right back that he's not and sets him up with her least attractive girlfriends to prove it, all of which leads to some wry ranting sessions between Ben and his understanding analyst (Sara Van Horn).
Then Ben surprises and shocks Katie by getting into a serious relationship, and she makes use of an accident at a traffic light to meet suave composer Richard Webber (Michael Harris), the kind of guy who manages to say, "There are no accidents, only cosmic coincidence," without making you hate him. That's when the romantic complications really begin.
Self-centered and vulnerable, assertive and touchy, confident and uncertain, Katie is the strong and vibrant center of "I Love You." A character written from the heart (Davis calls the film "autobiographical in spirit"), Katie is unmistakably Jewish in the Woody Allen mold, with all the comic neurosis and eagerness to over-anaylze to prove it. She never hesitates to use her know-it-all tongue to say precisely what's on her mind. Consequences? There's plenty of time to worry about them later on.
While some of "I Love You's" plot line is familiar, the premium the film puts on smart dialogue, its unexpected bursts of candid and even biting humor, sustains our interest. Katie's kind of conflict isn't often seen on screen these days, and the way it's played for poignancy as well as humor makes this romantic perils of Pauline a first-time film that's both promising for the future and awfully appealing right now.
I Love You, Don't Touch Me, 1998. R, for strong language and sexuality. A Westie Films in association with Big Hair Productions production, released by Goldwyn Entertainment Co. Director Julie Davis. Producers Julie Davis, Scott Chosed. Executive producer Jennifer Chaiken. Screenplay Julie Davis. Cinematographer Mark Putnam. Editor Julie Davis. Costumes Wendy Greiner. Production design Carol Strober. Set decorator Caroline Halili. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Marla Schaffel as Katie. Mitchell Whitfield as Ben. Meredith Scott Lynn as Janet. Darryl Theirse as Jones. Nancy Sorel as Elizabeth. Michael Harris as Richard.