Pretty Problems explores our fascination with the ultra-rich

Image for article titled'Pretty Problems' Consider our fascination with the ultra-rich

photo: Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

Less than ten minutes after the start of director Kestrin Pantera’s film Pretty problems, wannabe fashion designer Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and her husband Jack (Michael Tennant) have lost phone service in California’s wine country on their way to a weekend getaway with absurdly rich, brand new, virtual strangers. When they arrive at Cat (JJ Nolan) and Matt’s (Graham Outerbridge) chic, modern mansion, Jack voices our thoughts exactly as he says, “This is a murder house. This is a house where murder happens.” While murder (spoilers) does not feature in this film, it does exhume incisive truths about the ultra-rich and our collective obsession with them.

When Pantera listed me her favorite films via Zoom –The social network, fight club, The Royal Tenenbaums, Wayne’s World– it was clear that her deep familiarity with stories about twisted comedic class differences prepared her perfectly to direct this satire. She also credits her move from California to North Carolina and the two years in Taiwan for giving her the ability to understand things outside of American ethnocentrism. This perspective shines in the film’s more vulnerable moments, such as Lindsay’s earnest desire for more friendships in her lonely adult life and her preoccupation with what her husband is is not.

Pretty problems begins with Lindsey, who – unhappy with her job, her marriage, and her tax bracket – takes the opportunity to befriend the dry-humored, free-spirited, and vape-addicted Cat, who one day walks into her boutique and insists that Lindsey join her for a weekend. The weekend is packed with an itinerary that would keep even the most ambitious bachelor party tame: karaoke, wine tasting, crime night, poolside massages, a cocoa ceremony, and plenty of booze and psychedelics.

Granted, there were a few times I expected the trope-y characters to fall flat; but the film was often a step ahead of me and contained more complexity than I gave it credit for. A crazy rich woman looking for her next bored little project? That was Kat. But instead of being mindless and self-absorbed, a genuine loneliness and kindness peeped out from beneath their exotic headscarves. I was also ready for the finance brothers who evolved their drug problems into identities like “sommelier” and “brewery owner” Matt and Kerry (Alex Klein) to be your basic, stereotypical rich gits. And they kind of are – but in a surprisingly touching scene, the pair graciously welcome Jack to their crew for the weekend.

When I presented this scene to Pantera, she joked that “a long conversation between guys on a deck sounds like a death sentence”. But her multi-faceted approach to comedic direction came back into play. “I always try to put myself in each character’s point of view,” she said. she quotes Wayne’s world Again, he noted that director Penelope Spheeris “did a really good job” in creating these “totally empathetic guys.” “With the two rich idiot guys in our movie,” she said, “they weren’t like classic punk jock jerk guys.” Allowing those human moments to emerge elevates what could easily have been a shallow farce of a movie could be.

TV and movies have a big day skewering the ultra-rich, and quite frankly, it’s a subject I never tire of. successor, Big little liesand The White Lotus everyone did well. but Pretty problems is less a disparagement of the one percent and more a critique of our fascination with them. When Jack learns that Cat’s offer to fund Lindsay’s clothing line is as empty as her pockets are full, it’s not because she’s malicious and out to embarrass Lindsay or plans to inherit Lindsay’s creative intellectual property stealing – it’s just that she’s just as lonely and flawed as Lindsay. “Lindsay is isolated because she’s broke, Cat is isolated because she’s rich,” Pantera explained. Unfortunately, the rich are not really different from everyone else.

Pretty problems releases in select theaters and on-demand on Friday October 7th. Next, Pantera said all she wants to do is “make fun action and sci-fi movies.” The next project she jumps on as a director has the incredible working title of spy bitches. Lindsay and Jack may have been drowned out in the film, but Pantera certainly isn’t. Pretty Problems explores our fascination with the ultra-rich

Adam Bradshaw

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