Indie comedies starring familiar faces are a dime a dozen, and looking at any of them from the outset likely inspires eye-rolls at this point. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be good. Such is the case with Fits and Starts, a film that doesn’t exactly rise above cliche, but remains likable and charming nevertheless. It’s not something you need to run out and see, but if you come across it on Netflix (and I’m almost certain you someday will), you could do a lot worse with your ninety minutes.
Wyatt Cenac and Greta Lee star as husband and wife David and Jennifer. Both are writers, but Jennifer’s career has taken off in a big way while David struggles to finish his first book and gain recognition beyond Jennifer’s arm candy in the eyes of the New York publishing elite.
The two are invited to a fancy shindig but get separated on the way, forcing David to brave a world he’s at odds with all by himself. The brunt of the film’s comedy (and it is pretty funny, particularly in its great use of side characters) comes from gloriously exaggerated send-ups of this artistic community, a collection of bullshit blowhards fawning over worthless art and their own phony pretensions. David witnesses awful performances and suffers through stupid conversations one after another, each bringing him closer to breaking his stonefaced facade.
Cenac’s performance lacks confidence. At many times you can see his acting. But it matches the frequently uncomfortable situations he’s repeatedly faced with in this movie. On the other hand, it’s difficult to watch an entire lead performance based around not reacting to things. Cenac is milquetoast almost to the point of being catatonic.
Greta Lee is much more animated, however. She has the unfortunate role of being a Negative Nancy for much of the film, and at times you wonder why these two people are together in the first place. She also departs the plot for a huge chunk of the second act. The film isn’t about pulling the rug out from beneath their relationship, though. They have tensions, but in the end, their love for each other isn’t threatened, which is a refreshing take for a film focused on a couple’s relationship. This is a pretty smooth ride overall, as far as conflict goes.
Written and directed by Hello, My Name is Doris co-writer Laura Terruso, Fits and Starts has a ton of charm and some great comedy going for it (though not quite as much as the terrific Doris). I enjoyed it quite a bit, even though I didn’t find it particularly exceptional. Sometimes you just want to watch a small-stakes charmer. Fits and Starts definitely supplies that.