Title: The Pill
Writer-director: J.C. Khoury
Starring: Noah Bean, Rachel Boston, Anna Chlumsky, Dreama Walker, Al Thompson, Jean Brassard, Lue McWilliams
A lot of Hollywood romantic comedies unfold in worlds that are virtually unrecognizable from the real one, where couples meet in strange fashion and relationships often overlap in messy ways. Writer-director J.C. Khoury’s engaging The Pill, which just enjoyed its world premiere at the 14th annual Dances With Films festival, is thankfully not one of those efforts.
The movie centers around Fred (Noah Bean, Rose Byrne’s murdered fiance on Damages), a New Yorker who hooks up with the free-spirited Mindy (Rachel Boston), has pleasantly drunken but unfortunately unprotected sex, wakes up, and then spends a madcap day trying to avoid his girlfriend Nelly (Anna Chlumsky) and stick to his one-night stand, in order to make sure she takes the two-installment morning-after pill that will help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Claiming first that she “knows her body,” and later that the birth control pill is against her religious beliefs (“the one with the Pope”), Mindy is a grab-bag of resistance and whirling dervish energy, keeping Fred on his heels and making his quest mainly a furtive one, under the guise of striking up a more serious relationship. Dragged to a family party, Fred gets to meet Mindy’s parents (Jean Brassard and Lue McWilliams), as well as her engaged younger sister Rose (Gossip Girl‘s Dreama Walker), and ex-boyfriend Jim (Al Thompson). Slowly, Fred finds himself more attracted to Mindy in unexpected ways, complicating his problematic and possibly flickering relationship with Nelly.
The Pill‘s compressed timeline, and its conflict with New York City’s geographical realities, offers some opportunity for pin-prick critical deflation, but there’s a pleasant, forward-leaning energy to the entire film that mitigates this. Khoury is honest about the varied and jumbled emotions of his characters, and lets them make/have made some dubious choices without judging them or bending over backwards to try to explain and justify everything. The Pill is reflective of the reality of the twenty- and even early-thirtysomething dating scene, in which people mean well but often find their attempts at monogamy tested in unexpected ways.
If Fred and Mindy are fairly well sketched, the supporting characters are a bit less so. Khoury sets up the possibility of a much more antagonistic or interesting relationship between Mindy and Rose, but then does nothing with it (Walker is in but one scene). Even working within the narrative confines of a single day, there are still some missed opportunities to create an even more jumbled, pressurized backdrop. This was a problem with Katie Aselton’s glancingly similar The Freebie, which flirted with intrigue but ultimately came across as a watered-down exercise in gender-play sociology. The Pill has more honesty going for it, but it also plays a hand of rather lazy moral equivalency near the end, making for a somewhat too-pat moment that lets one of its characters halfway off the hook.
Boston, who also appeared in the Dances With Films entry 10 Years Later, has a certain real-girl charm, and Bean, who was limited to a rather dour functionality during his work on the superb first season of Damages, here gets to showcase a bit more personality. Especially amusing is the sort of nice-guy passive-aggressiveness in which he trades in the film’s first half, nervously joking, “Is it down — let me see the tongue!” when Mindy takes the first morning-after capsule. Ultimately, The Pill may not have a bunch of answers, but that’s part of its undeniable charm; its characters are out there struggling too, just like the rest of us in the real world.
Written by: Brent Simon