Directed by Rob Carpenter
Starring Casey Manderson, Michael Brian
Indie Film Review by Lucas Wilson
Friedrich Nietzsche once declared that every book can be summarised by one sentence and that the rest was merely babble. If time travel were possible and he were willing to extend his wit to film, I’d defy him to summarise either the essence or the point of Nutshells, a comedy-drama inflicted on the world by Rob Carpenter. It isn’t just that Nutshells makes you ask yourself why you’re watching it but, in an odd way, the film itself seems to wonder why it was made.
The chief problem is a script that, in the right hands, might have made an interesting short film but which is dragged across ninety minutes, eighty of which consist of unintentionally funny dialogue, confusing character motivation and a water-treading sequence of scenes that are irritating in their failure to paint the life of the protagonist and his woes. The bar is set particularly low during what is arguably the worst film representation of a therapist in living memory; a failed, unfunny attempt to invert the therapist as carer into careerist. On the couch is Casey Manderson playing protagonist Bill, a supposedly arrogant writer apparently beginning to experience the collapse of his beliefs about the world and his place in it.
Bill, Nutshells is repeatedly at pains to point out, is recently divorced because he didn’t want children while his ex-wife did. Nutshells goes to even greater lengths to attempt to show Bill to be sardonic, immature and utterly incapable of managing life without a woman who wouldn’t stay with him as a result of his selfishness. Although it ineptly surfaces from time to time, this not-so-subtle vision of man as noble only when he’s reproducing and safely in the confines of suburbia backfires; Manderson’s Bill is far more likable than the film he’s in. In fact it’s a blessing that he’s on the screen for most of Nutshells; his performance is one of the few consistent things here and, despite lamentable dramatic feedback from a number of his co-stars, he manages to make the film work as a showcase for his talent which at least allows someone to get something out of this. His wingman, Frank (Michael Brian), an endearing counterpart to Bill, is also ably played and Brian deserves high praise for his ability to maintain a straight face while uttering the eyebrow raising lines “we need women to take care of us and to remind us to go to the doctor”. In the immortal words of Reverend Lovejoy, he does the best with the material he has.
As constrained as these performances are by what’s around them, they are the strongest suit of Nutshells, a film which, in every other way, would have benefitted from better technique (especially on Carpenter’s own jarring, jumpy editing) and a clearer vision of how to achieve what it was trying to do.