Writer-director: Lovinder Gill
Starring: Sheetal Sheth, Josh Randall, Burgess Jenkins, P.J. Maske
An in-competition west coast premiere at the ongoing 14th annual Dances With Films festival, writer-director Lovinder Gill’s ‘Stalemate’ is an unsophisticatedly sweet love triangle that unfolds in inoffensive fashion, but ultimately just doesn’t have much of interest to say about women, men or any of the mysterious and necessary distance between them.
At the beginning of a particularly important and busy work week, advertising rep Kayleigh (Sheetal Sheth) tells long-time boyfriend Rich (Burgess Jenkins) that she wants a bit of a break, and doesn’t want to see him again until Friday, which is her birthday. Working up a promotional campaign for a minor league baseball team set to soon move into a new stadium, Kayleigh finds herself paired up with an outside contractor, the amiable Art (Josh Randall). He immediately loosens her up, dragging Kayleigh out of her (strangely deserted) office for a series of working lunches and dinners that slowly morph into something approaching dates. By the time Friday comes, and then that weekend, Kayleigh is on the verge of a full-blown existential crisis, torn between the two men in her life — one old and one new.
Set and filmed on location in Winston Salem, North Carolina, ‘Stalemate’ wrings a bit of production value out of the (real) construction site of a local baseball stadium, but is otherwise flatly staged and shot. Most of its problems, however, relate directly to the material. Screen romances and love triangles need not be hopelessly complicated, or littered with ridiculous, unrealistic and over-the-top problems keeping boy and girl apart; witness the simple beauty of something like the heartrending Once, from a few years back. But Gill’s movie is thinly drawn (Kayleigh is stuffy and uptight because she has a Mercedes, nice furniture in her office, and works inside; Art is an appealing free spirit because he drives a Jeep, eats hot dogs, likes the outdoors and also plays guitar), and, while admirably adding some much-needed three-dimensionality to Rich as the film wears on, lacking in much insight or quality drama about what’s driven a wedge between the couple to begin with.
It also strikes an overall false chord by having Art object in pouty fashion to Kayleigh’s eventually stated desire to date both men for a while. Rich’s opposition is understandable, given their three-year history, but if there’s anything that the history of humankind has taught us, it’s that guys are cool with the potential for no-strings-attached sex, if that’s what a lady is offering. So when the men get together and talk, and then decide to jointly put an ultimatum to Kayleigh, it’s one of those bullshit cinematic fantasies, in which (predominantly) guys exorcise some demons about how they were romantically strung along in their formative years. Compounding all the falsity and awkwardness is the completely needless (on a narrative level) compression of time. Art’s a nice guy, yes, but four (chaste, part-time) days does not a grand love affair make.
‘Stalemate’ may not ultimately work, but what it does have going for it is Sheth, a knockout beauty whose eyes could and probably should be classified as weapons of mass distraction. Jenkins comes across as pretty shallow, an Abercrombie & Fitch himbo model, while Randall at least conveys a loose-limbed charisma that makes his scenes passably engaging. Sheth, however, gives ‘Stalemate’ a soul, because even if she’s not given much with which to work, she both communicates romantic ambivalence and reminds viewers of that libidinal surge attached to flirtation and blooming attraction. In another era, she would have been a great silent film superstar; as is, head shots of her could likely be used as a major timesaver in therapy, to hypnotize patients.
Written by: Brent Simon