The Lather Effect
What about the shirt? Too much? Not enough?

Release: Small Festival Circuit Run and then DVD in 2007
Director: Sarah Kelly
Cast: Connie Britton, Sarah Clarke, Tate Donovan, Caitlin Keats, William Mapother, Ione Skye, Peter Facinelli, Eric Stoltz, David Herman

Oh, that classic film convention – reuniting a group of close-knit friends years after their bonds have withered under the pressures of time and distance. It’s as familiar as that mole on your left thigh … don’t ask how I know. Well, such a film has appeared again in the form of “The Lather Effect”.

It begins at an 80s party (themed as such, not actually set in … which only becomes clear well into the party) and our lovable, dysfunctional brood is a hodgepodge cross-section of society that wouldn’t run in the same social circles in the real world and it’s barely believable they’d have done so in high school either. There’s a child actor, a doctor, a lawyer and a few other less defined archetypes with which writer/director Sarah Kelly creates stereotypical personality constructs for the characters.

For the most part, the film is a series of group discussions (very “Big Chill”), highlighting key moments lived two decades ago but necessary to the audience to understand the heavy subtext that permeates the production. It’s clear that Kelly wrote the film as a method to explore/exorcise the past from her life and while it’s often completely self-indulgent, because I can relate all too well to that proclivity, I wasn’t too put off by it. Those with healthier emotional mechanism may not be so kind.

The actors all do a decent job of reliving that angst many adults harbor after wearing it on their teenage sleeves like a badge of honor. While no one is a huge mega-star, fans of independent film and prime-time television will recognize most of the actors which adds a level of fun to the project. As any good reunion flick would do, “The Lather Effect” centers around the incestuous nature of this clique and how certain people’s longing though long lost and dealt with may still be simmering on the surface (I’d say under the surface but it’s really obvious).

One actor who apparently had more invested in the project was Eric Stoltz. Adding an associate producer credit to his billing, his character was the voice of wisdom in a way and served to help the other characters find their way towards closure with many of their past actions. What truly sets his character apart from the others, aside from his non-school related connection to them, are the choices Stoltz used in forming this party Buddha of sorts. It was like he was channeling Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” first through his fun loving character from “Say Anything” and then through the voice box of Snake from “The Simpsons”. Weird … just weird. And yet, as the film progresses this amalgamation of so many different recognizable characters makes sense somehow and I couldn’t see Stoltz doing it any other way.

To enjoy the film, one must have a like/love of angst, independent film and the 80s. While much of the film is overtly a nod to that glorious decade, many of the music choices are less obvious (but no less memorable) and really fun for those of us who remember the era with fondness.

Another really great homage to the 80s is the link this film shares with “Say Anything”. Most obvious is the inclusion of both Eric Stoltz and Ione Skye (who still looks the same as she did in 1989 … it’s amazing … and creepy … and I like it). But what will really have fans of that film grinning is a line of graffiti on Peter Facinelli’s character’s bedroom wall. It reads “Joe lies when he cries”, which is a line from one of Lili Taylor’s songs about the love of her life in the film, Joe. I know, I really am a film geek.

Moving on, “The Lather Effect” won’t wow you with particularly clever dialogue and it probably won’t do much to soften any emotional bruises you may still carry from high school; but the actors created a convincing group of friends (in spite of their divergent careers) and I enjoyed their trip down memory lane as it helped re-ignite some of my own memories.

However, so much of the film is the super-sappy stuff twenty-somethings write in journals to vent their anger and sorrow and that the cathartic process for Sarah Kelly is on-screen for all of us to watch cheapened the integrity of the project as a whole; being constantly aware of how this was essentially a form of therapy for someone who had the means and connections to make a movie about what bugged them. As such, I can only deliver “The Lather Effect” a 2 out of 5 though I do hope that Stoltz can find another film to complete the character trilogy of lovable, neighborhood party facilitators. It’s a fun gig if you can get it.