One of the best things to happen to 21st century genre cinema is the transgression that comes with newer understandings of social norms.  After about one hundred years of cinema, the tropes of classic Hollywood became less of a necessity and more of a suggestion, allowing filmmakers to tell stories that go against the grain when it comes to the necessities of living.

This is why Andrea Dorfman’s non-rom-com Spinster seemed so exciting, appearing to be something like 2014’s Obvious Child, taking classic patriarchal standards and turning them on their heads.  This is true in theory, at least.  In practice, Spinster is an aimless meandering mess which appears to be transgressive, while being more than happy to give into the hegemony it appears to question.

Spinster begins with Gaby (Chelsea Peretti) coming home to see her “boyfriend” packing up and leaving, in a scene that is admittedly quite funny.  This event sets off Dorfman’s character study of the protagonist, a woman who doesn’t seem to want to follow the path that she has been told she should.  She is single and childless, and she is perfectly fine with that.  The problem is that she is not perfectly fine with that.  It’s not that the complexities of such decisions are studied – in fact, that would be great.  It’s that they are questioned and contradicted at every turn.

Gaby says that she doesn’t want kids while also needing a child substitute, or she says that she is happily single and refuting her own claim in the next scene.  Life is full of complexities, but Spinster mistakes tradition with complexity;  as if the writer and director disbelieve everything within the narrative.  Where the audience should be happy for Gaby, everything just comes across so depressing;  as if she knows the least about her own path.  This also leads to a droopy film, as the scenes’ lack of cohesion leads to what appears to be nothing more than a series of unrelated images.

Spinster’s saving grace is surprisingly also one of the weak points.  Chelsea Peretti has a gigantic personality and fantastic comic timing, but she is not a good actor.  While she is an absolute asset in many supporting roles, her indifferent disposition just doesn’t work as a leading role that appears to be Gina Linetti from TV’s Brooklyn Nine Nine with about ten percent less unearned narcissism.  Of course, her personality shines where her acting chops do not, which occasionally makes up for it.

Spinster could’ve been an incredibly exciting quarantine watch, but it’s an absolute mess.


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