Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sweet LIfe, is indeed pretty sweet

D. Rocco Simonelli
Synapse Ent.
1.78 DVCAM

This may be an unusual choice to see reviewed here on Exploitation Nation. A Romantic Comedy that has no evisceration, no nudity, no revenge or rape, or people being run off the road and eaten by tentacled monsters. Why you may ask is THE SWEET LIFE being covered on this blog, known for mayhem and naked flesh? Well, the movie is produced by one Roy Frumkes the man behind such revered, at least behind these walls, movies as STREET TRASH, THE JOHNSONS and to a much lesser extent, THE SUBSTITUTE. It also stars James Lorinz the brilliant comedic actor who starred in FRANKENHOOKER, and nearly stole the show in a supporting role in STREET TRASH. Any movie that is smart enough to put Lorinz in a prime starring role again deserves full props in our book. Finally the movie is being released by our homeboys at Synapse Entertainment and those fellas need no introductions on these pages.

But still at the end of the day, this is no exploitation film, it is indeed what it sounds like, a sweet natured, somewhat wise, very well done indie romantic comedy drama. The kind of thing that used to get little art house releases back in the 90's.

The movie opens with James Lorinz as Michael, narrating a flashback to when he was just a little boy. He explains that his first interaction with a love life was a failed moment we are witnessing. As a young lad he tries to put a box a candy on the door step of another girl he clearly has a crush on. He envisions it as a moment of wonder when she opens the card and sees he loves her and all is right in the world. Instead she shows up with his older brother Frankie (Robert Mobley)  on her arm, and opens the card and he and the girl have a good laugh, through the card to the side and eat the candy. His first interaction with women was not only a shattering one but also set him up to see his brother take her out from under him. A pattern that will continue into adulthood. Michael explains this one incident has made him set his sights with women spectacularly low for the rest o his life, because he never has felt he can get past his self esteem enough to get with someone better. This leads to a funny montage of him meeting and dating a series of clearly insane women, including one convinced she is infected with fecal parasites.

Flash forward to the present with Frankie and Michael out for drinks at a bar. Frankie is explaining  to a waitress that it is his brother's birthday, that she should come to his party but he is too shy to ask her. The whole thing is clearly a sleazy come on to get with the girl, a come on that clearly works. Michael chimes in with a joke, but neither the girl or his brother hear nor care. He is never really "there". His character is established quickly as the nice guy, who is finishing in last in his brother's aggressive shadow. On a cab ride to another bar they discuss women where Frankie enlightens his brother with a very telling speech about how women will always do what he wants because they think he will walk away at any given moment. He never lets them have any power, and treats them like dirt. Not to the point of abusing them, but just never lets them have a upper hand or think they have any control. He explains women respond to that, to power to confidence. That Michael has none of that. That his nice guy stance will never get him anywhere. He is very correct, if still kind of an asshole.

At the next bar we meet Lila (Barabara Sicuranza) a pretty bartender with a flare for life. Frankie is in a relationship with her, even though he is clearly not faithful to her. She clearly take s little bit of a shine to Micheal even though he comes across like a pussy. Her and Frankie go home and have sex, and he does his little emotional power play dance and it is clear she is not getting what she needs. They also agree to set up Michael with her Roommate played by Joan Jett (who also provides a lot of the music). A boozing, psycho alcoholic. After a night on the town with her that increasingly resembles Scorsese's AFTER HOURS. Michael ends up at her apartment consoling Lila because his shit heel brother has broken up with her. This night, a twist of fate ends up bringing the two together as fast friends, where Michael realizes Lila has a lot more to offer as a person than his brother ever wanted to even know. Lila finds that Michael encourages her to be more than she ever was willing to do on her own. It seems destined to work, to be good as two kind people find each other.

But real life never works out that way, and this is were THE SWEET LIFE becomes more than some simple Rom-Com. Because in the second half the movie throws some serious curve balls. Curve balls that feel like real life, not scripted fiction that are set in motion to get the girls in the audience crying and then safely make everything work out okay. Real life doesn't work out that way, and thankfully neither does THE SWEET LIFE. There are no good guys and bad guys, things are varying shades of gray colored in ,by everyone's own needs. A lot of times those are more selfish than people realize, and this movie does a wonderful job of exploring that without ever being preachy while retaining a sly sense of humor.

The likable leads go a long way to making it that way. As I stated before any movie smart enough to put Lorinz in the lead has done a good thing right from the start. He has always been funny leading man material and thankfully here is a movie that lets him get to explore it in good context. He is likable, funny and self-depreciating in the best way. He is like Woody Allen without the glasses and the desire to have sex with your own step kids.  Barabara Sicaranza is equally charming, her character is actually fairly whiny and sometimes a bit obtuse, but her strong performance keeps her constantly likable, even after she makes some really shitty choices in the film that make you want to NOT like her anymore.

Likewise the smart script and direction by Rocco Simonelli. Likable, unobtrusive and lets the actors take the material to heart. In the extras Rocco and the actors talk a lot about how autobiographic the film is. We even meet Rocco's actual brother and sister in law in the behind the scenes and they try in vain to explain what in the film is real and not real. The movie feels almost like a confessional after watching the extras.

If I can land a complaint on the movie it is the fact they shot it on DVCAM, and apparently PAL at that. It looks like a freaking soap opera which for me is continually distracting. The movie itself is shot well, with nice camera moves, great editing, the sound is done well, and considering shooting on the streets of New York that was probably a nightmare (the refeyrence that in the extras, so it clearly was),but the actual LOOK of the movie is just like a Soap Opera because of the professional grade video they chose to shoot on. Which is weird because the clips of the movie in the extras do NOT look like the finished movie for some reason. They look rougher around the edges as if processed or a generation away or something,and look BETTER for it. But with that said that is a technical complaint, and one coming from a filmmaker, so normal folks probably wont notice that or give a shit. This is a movie about acting and characters, both of which really shine. It is also a movie about a good script from Simonelli and Roy Frumkes both of whom do a good job.

This is a nice change of pace for both me as viewer and everyone involved who normally seem to do genre work. So give THE SWEET LIFE a shot. I'm sure lots of you folks reading this blog have girlfriends or boyfriends who are not big genre fans. This is a nice stop gap when you can't always be watching sleaze and exploitation. It is a nice New York love story with a true life pulse.

* Also for you super obscure cult film fans there is a quick in joke to Simonelli and Lorinz's never completed film SWIRLEE about a mafia hitman made of Ice Cream. An ad for it appears on the back of a bus while Michael is riding a motorcycle. Blink and you will miss it. A test reel for SWIRLEE has bounced around the underground for years and is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It is out there if you know where to look. 

Review © Andrew Copp


  1. SWEET LIFE director Rocco Simonelli here, and I just wanted to thank Andrew Copp for giving Roy's and my film such a thorough and thoughtful review. The film has been praised before, but this is the first review I've read where the reviewer really "got" what we were trying to do. James Lorinz, Barbara Sicuranza, Robert Mobley and Joan Jett all give terrific performances, and Synapse has done a great job with the DVD presentation, so I hope Andrew's readers will give the film a shot. You can watch a fun trailer for SWEET LIFE at the Synapse Films web site (http://synapse-films.com/dvds/the-sweet-life/), or at my personal web site (http://www.roccosimonelli.com/), or on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCtZZQOw1nk). Thanks again. Rocco Simonelli

  2. Rocco, Thanks for the comment. I did indeed like the movie a lot. I'm typically not a romantic comedy type of person and was attracted to the movie via it being a Synapse release and because it featured James Lorinz whom I love. But the movie is a GEM. I hope people really find it. I wish more "indie" projects were like this now and less Hollywood vanity projects the play "art" houses.

    I mentioned the actual look of the movie bothering me. Later I thought about that and I didn't take into consideration you guys shot this around 2002 when DVCam was pretty much top of the line for these sorts of projects. Technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds in the HD age. Everything about the movie is still ultra professional and worthy of attention.

  3. Andrew, I see you've added a reference to SWIRLEE at the bottom of your SWEET LIFE review. That was a very inside joke, and I'm glad somebody picked up on it. Also, if you or anyone want to read the feature length SWIRLEE screenplay, it's posted at my web site (http://www.roccosimonelli.com/apps/documents/).

  4. Great article, Andy! While "romantic comedy" is a phrase that usually sends me scrambling, this sounds pretty fun and well made. Plus, that cast!