© Mill Creek Entertainment
The Contrast has big aspirations but has trouble reaching any of them
by Jeremy Fogelman
Cast: Joy Villa, Lee Donoghue, Jermain Hollman, Deanna Rashell
Adapting old stories is always a bit of a big swing, regardless of who is swinging and what they are swinging at. If the story is well known, it likely has been adapted many times prior and perhaps with beloved examples. If it’s an unknown or obscure tale, there’s pressure on the adapting creative to tell the tale properly while still understanding that current social mores and morality may have rendered the original version unplayable now. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, even more so if you don’t realize the tightrope is there at all.
The Contrast comes from writer Chris Johnson and directors Sean Dube and Presley Paras, based on a play by the same name by Royall Tyler from 1787. When I saw this movie I didn’t realize it was based on a play. If I had I would’ve understood some of the decisions better, which I’ll get to. We follow primarily Maria (Joy Villa) as she’s headed to a little B&B in the middle of the countryside for her small wedding. Her intended husband is odd hipster Dimple (Lee Donoghue) and indeed that name is from the original play -- although it’s his last name so I don’t know why the movie changed that.
Maria has arrived with her two friends, Charlee (Deanna Rashell), who is one of those “flirty” girls, and Jenny (Thanh Ta), who is one of those “snarky” girls. Maria is not particularly enthused about marrying Dimple, mainly doing it because he has money and her dad (Lance E. Nichols) wants it that way -- this is a weird angle that’s never fully explained, because it’s attempting to adapt the play where Maria was required to marry as her father asks.
Things get shaken up when Charlee’s brother Colonel Henry Manly (Jermain Hollman) arrives, and yes, that is also his name in the original play as well -- it feels like a joke here but doesn’t really play like one. Instantly Maria and Henry are far more attracted to each other than Maria was with her fiance, while romantic entanglements arise between everyone else in what are sometimes interesting ways.
At the same time, Dimple is actually having money problems and is dealing with the mysterious Mr. Hazard (director Sean Dube), who is putting on a questionable British accent -- and he also derides Dimple’s attempt at an even worse one, which feels like the director didn’t realize his accent wasn’t particularly amazing either.
|© Mill Creek Entertainment|
Otherwise the movie adapts the play in a sort of general way, using a similar set of characters but modernizes their situation -- even if the two main pieces (why the old relationship lasted so long and why Henry and Maria are so into each other so suddenly) aren’t really modernized so effectively. The writing is really just okay, sometimes decent, sometimes cringey.
From an acting perspective, it’s a bit of a mixed bag -- they are hampered by the material but some performances manage to squeak by (mainly Maria’s friends) and become at least a little entertaining. Unfortunately it’s also a bit of a flat movie visually, not really getting into any dynamic visual language -- although this is an indie movie, I always tend to respect an indie that tries hard and fails then one that is taking a more easy approach and is technically competent.
I can’t say I hated the movie or anything so severe, and I tend to cut indie movies more slack as they don’t have the budget for a lot -- and filming in the pandemic makes things harder still. But unfortunately I can’t really see anyone that would really enjoy this one, not even any fans of the original play, which may only be relevant because of its history as the first professionally produced play in the US -- although I wonder how many theater fans even know that.
The Contrast has a run time of 1 hour 22 minutes and is not rated.