Title: Nipples & Palm Trees
Director: Dylan Reynolds
Starring: Matt James, Sadie Katz, Aki Kitamura, Dallas Malloy, Vanessa Rose Parker
If a catchy, memorable and/or weirdly evocative title made a film, then surely “Nipples & Palm Trees” would be among the year’s best releases. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of color and sizzle but precious little of substance in this unenlightening tale of a down-and-out Los Angeles artist and his fitful relationship with his muse. Energetically shot enough to qualify as a travelogue curio for hardcore indie fans in search of another City-of-Angels valentine, there’s otherwise little to recommend this low-budget misfire.
The film centers on Jackson (screenwriter Matt James), a Venice Beach painter of sexually graphic couplings who suffers the indignity of a mind-numbing daytime office job at a call center. He’s a sex addict locked in a mutual-use relationship with Harmony (Sadie Katz) when she wanders off, leaving him in lovelorn fashion to troll the city for “release,” via massage parlors and a series of increasingly fractured and bizarre interactions with nymphomaniacs and other weirdos.
Director-editor Dylan Reynolds, working with cinematographer Matt Gulley, devises a visual template that goes a long way toward masking the narrative deficiencies of “Nipples & Palm Trees,” at least for its first couple reels. Using filters galore, the duo deploy an active, lively style, and cram their frames full — even if some of their choices (including a title card that appears 20 minutes into the movie) are strange, and the nervous, flitting tone is eventually revealed to be little more than a case of the emperor’s new clothes.
The script for “Nipples & Palm Trees” smacks of Eric Schaeffer-dom, which is to say that it’s centered around an angsty, capital-a artistic protagonist, and created seemingly with the prime objective of giving the creator (in this case writer-actor James) the chance to roll around naked with lots of ladies. Here, the nonsensical fantasy constructs include dinner-party gang-bangs and busty women who offer up joints and handjobs to strangers within five minutes of meeting them. Unwilling to sit on his actors, Reynolds allows the unchecked indulgence of James — who as a performer otherwise has a somewhat pleasing pinch of Paul Reiser’s nervous self-deprecation, by way of Andy Garcia — to run roughshod over the proceedings. As a result, scenes with a loosely improvised feel drone on and on, without ever really arriving at a place of grander illumination. The same story, in other words, could be told in 75 less minutes, as an equally frisky short.
James never really develops Harmony much beyond the broadest of strokes — as a damaged girl with raccoon-eyes makeup and a shrugged-off history of sexual abuse. While that backstory explains her choice of Jackson for acting out, it doesn’t really elevate their relationship to the level of something worth caring about, and so the film’s stab at emotional resonance in its finale comes off as especially unsuccessful. Most problematically, though, Jackson’s own behavior doesn’t add up. Would a sex addict and devoted fan of happy-endings massages really be freaked out by something like anal beads? Only in a film like “Nipples & Palm Trees,” which wants to wring mock-outrageousness out of every ounce of its messy story, no matter the improbability.
NOTE: “Nipples & Palm Trees” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. For other release date information, and more information generally, visit www.NipplesAndPalmTrees.com.
Written by: Brent Simon