“In Stereo” is another of those New York stories about artists in turmoil. The film’s characters wallow in their selfishness, ingratitude and inability to love.
These characters have their ups and downs, just as non-artists who don’t live in New York City do, but exactly why they’re so unhappy and maladjusted remains a mystery.
Micah Hauptman’s David is a successful commercial photographer who longs to be an artist. Beau Garrett’s Brenda is an actress who starred in a hit TV show before her character was killed off. David and Brenda are the principal speakers, so to speak, in “In Stereo.” As if to underline their stereophonic disharmony, split-screen images show them trudging separately over city sidewalks.
Hauptman’s and Garrett’s performances as the estranged couple deserve no complaints. Writer-director Mel Rodriguez III also makes the characters real and recognizable. There’s no shortage of narcissistic, angry, dissatisfied people.
And the world is full of crashing bores. David is one of them. He drones on to his therapist about his unfaithful girlfriend. Showing characteristic hostility, David argues with the therapist (Sean Cullen), who’s a rare voice of reason in “In Stereo.”
With David, the movie falls into a nearly inescapable trap. Moviegoers can love a great villain, but they can’t love a dullard who, on top of being a drag, imagines he’s something special.
Slasher films, a subgenre of horror, learned long ago that the most satisfying way to deal with characters such as David and his post-Brenda girlfriend, Jennifer (Melissa Bolona), is to have Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or some other monster slay them.
David’s ex-girlfriend, Brenda, found major success playing the “bitch” character in her TV series, but by the time “In Stereo” begins, she’s doing TV commercials for a product that treats a sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, Brenda nonchalantly tells a colleague: “I get offers all the time. NBC, Fox, CBS, everything. There’s not really that much I’m interested in.”
In full diva mode, Brenda does nothing but complain about her lack of worthy roles to her agent, a refreshingly genuine character played by Mario Cantone.
“Do your job!” Brenda tells him. “I want my career back.” The agent’s counterpunch deserves a round of applause. “Let me just explain something to you,” he says. “You are not that good.”
While David gripes to his shrink and best friend (Kieran Campion), the script gives Brenda her own venue for complaints. It’s either a radio talk show or a podcast. Brenda, eventually infused with some warmth by Garrett, gradually becomes not so bad, but David likely remains irredeemable.
Joining Brenda’s agent in the reality check department, Trisha, the director of a gallery (Aimee Mullins) that shows David’s photos, states the obvious about his unfaithful girlfriend, obviousness that the movie’s audience already knows.
“She is an emotional 8-year-old,” Trisha says. “She’s young and she’s hot, and you’re a man.”
The overly familiar scenes and situations that fill “In Stereo,” as well as the movie’s self-congratulatory tone, don’t translate into something interesting or entertaining. These characters and their problems are not worth their 90 minutes on screen.