When watching Kestrin Pantera‘s Pretty Problems, if such titles as This Is 40, Wanderlust, The Invitation, White Lotus, and/or Schitt’s Creek come to mind, you can sit comfortably knowing that was somewhat deliberate. Though there’s evident inspiration from such vast titles, Pretty Problems is still very much its own being; it just helps it has some shared DNA with narratives that revel in often humourous discomfit.
Stuck in a rut, both personally and professionally, Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and Jack (Michael Tennant) are unprepared for the “hospitality” that awaits them when they are invited to a weekend getaway to celebrate the birthday – though, of course, they don’t know that – of Cat (JJ Nolan, leaning deliciously into her unhinged mentality), a vaping, vapid housewife with too much money and not enough sense.
Under normal situations Lindsay and Jack wouldn’t be hobnobbing with such obnoxious wealth, but when Cat steamrolls into Lindsay’s place of work one day, the two become fast friends; it isn’t long before Cat is dubbing her “Linds”, despite Lindsay detesting such a moniker. Lindsay can’t help but initially warm to Cat’s obscene success and overt enthusiasm, so she thinks nothing of accepting her invitation for a weekend away. Jack, wisely, is more hesitant, baffled as to why someone they barely know is sharing such an event with them.
We quickly learn that Cat, her husband Matt (Graham Outerbridge), a self-made billionaire with a gratitude for his own privilege, and their fellow guests, Kerry (Alex Klein), a trust-fund baby whose grandfather invented tater tots, and his arm-candy-of-the-moment Carrie (Charlotte Ubben), a dancer/model/actress/whatever, are far from the type of people you want to spend a brief moment with, let alone an entire weekend. And as much as they initially seem elite with their monetary-driven stories, it’s all too quickly clear that Lindsay and Jack’s less-than status is providing the quartet with unlikely entertainment.
A collaborative effort between stars Rentschler, Tennant and Ubben – the latter two also creating the story – Pretty Problems has a very personal underbelly to its, at times, over-the-top scenarios. Whilst never descending into farce, the situational humour is often turned up for the sake of a coincidental plot point – Lindsay’s extremely well-endowed ex-boyfriend being on hand as Cat and Matt’s “houseboy” being one such obstacle – and its clear that because Rentschler and Tennant are driving the narrative as writers and performers is why the film seems so inherently natural.
At 105 minutes the film perhaps overstays its welcome by (more than a few) seconds as it flirts with the danger of a recycled temperament where Lindsay and Jack fall victim to their hosts’ narcissistic tendencies. This certainly plays in favour of Outerbridge and Nolan – the latter playing Cat like Schitt’s Creek‘s Alexis Rose, with all the rudeness but none of the goodwill – who completely devour their roles with acidity, but there’s only so much rinse-and-repeat we can handle as viewers. Thankfully, Pretty Problems knows when to pump its own breaks, but its ultimate resolution is one that could’ve been met without all the filler scenarios.
All that being said, the decision to indulge in the unpleasantness of people is a bold swing that has to be commended. So many scripts would have tried to find a way to somehow humanise such awful people, but Rentschler, Tennant and Ubben double-down on the harsh reality that some people are the worst, and their own self-importance doesn’t take away from your own. Uncomfortable at times, blackly comic at others, and somehow always finding a truth within the exaggerated, Pretty Problems, imperfect as it may be, is a welcome break to those tired of cookie cutter archetypes and the safety that comes with telling such stories.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Pretty Problems is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, which is being presented in-person and virtually between March 11th and 20th, 2022. For more information head to the official SXSW website.