To call the award-winning indie Lovely by Surprise "unique" would be an understatement. The film, scheduled for release on DVDand through download on July 7, is a hugely original take on familiar themes of parental abandonment, wish fulfillment and the artistic/literary process.
Movie Dearest fave Carrie Preston (of Straight-Jacket and Ready? OK!, and arguably the best thing about the recent Duplicity) gives a remarkable, nuanced performance as Marian, a talented writer struggling to finish her first novel. The book centers on two developmentally-stunted, underwear-clad brothers, Humkin (Michael Chernus) and Mopekey (Dallas Roberts, who gay viewers may recognize from A Home at the End of the World), who are trying to survive without needed adult supervision in a mobile home.
It gradually becomes clear through flashbacks that the story of Mopekey and Humkin parallels Marian's continued grappling with the loss of her mother and father while she was a child. Young Marian is shown living with her loving if unbalanced car-salesman dad, Bob (an excellent Reg Rogers). In addition to the ghosts of her past, adult Marian also has to contend with her lecherous former creative-writing teacher (the always enjoyable Austin Pendleton) and his wife (a hilarious Kate Burton).
The storyline of Lovely by Surprise is quirky in spades and murky at times, which may provoke viewer frustration. It is written and directed by talented newcomer Kirt Gunn, who gets great support from cinematographer Steve Yedlin and production designer Timothy Whidbee. Another cast member worth noting is Richard Masur, perhaps best remembered as the college recruiter in Risky Business, who plays Bob's flummoxed boss.
If you take a chance on Lovely by Surprise — and I encourage you to do so — stay with it to the end. The film may well reward you in emotional, even healing, dividends.
Click here to watch the trailer for Lovely by Surprise.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.