Producers: Bill Niven, Jay Dahl, Marc Tetreault and William Woods Director: Andrea Dorfman Screenplay: Jennifer Deyell Cast: Chelsea Peretti, Kate Lynch, Susan Kent, Jonathan Watton, Nadia Tonen, David Rosetti, Kristen Olivia Taylor, Amy Groening and Eugene Sampang Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
It’s gratifying that Andrea Dorfman’s movie upends typical rom-com conventions, but it manages to be only moderately amusing in the process.
In the Canadian picture, set in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Chelsea Peretti (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) plays Gaby, a caterer whose cynical (or perhaps realistic) attitude toward dreams of romantic bliss and a tendency to speak her mind in caustic terms are revealed upfront in a conversation with a bride-to-be (Amy Groening). When the woman gushes about her upcoming nuptials and the life she thinks will follow, Gaby counters with brutal observations about marriage beginning as a contract and developing into a form of capitalist profit and often nothing more than a convenient tax break.
But while deflating common notions about the life of husband and children women are expected to embrace, Gaby—on her thirty-ninth birthday, no less—is herself confronted by them when she returns home to find Nathan (Eugene Sampang), her boyfriend of several month, packing up his beloved board games, saying he’s returning to his former girlfriend. Gaby’s crushed, and in no mood to celebrate, though it’s clear the two were incompatible.
What follows is a voyage of self-discovery as Gaby navigates her post-breakup woes. She admits to Nathan, before he scuttles away, that she’s an irritating person, but while recognizing that she needs to work on her personality, at a gathering at her best friend Amanda’s (Susan Kent), she crisply admonishes one of Amanda’s two tykes for touching the food, and argues with another woman (Kristin Olivia Taylor) about having children at all.
At the same time she throws herself into the dating pool. She tries blind dates and speed dating, to no avail. She joins a softball team to meet guys, only to be berated by a male player when she ignores a fly ball while looking him over. She eyes a chiropractor without success. Nothing seems to work.
And yet despite fears of spinsterthood—she remembers an elderly aunt who died in her bathtub—Gaby finds hopeful signs over the next year that make her question whether living alone is such a bad idea after all. Her considerate father Jack (Bill Carr) hesitantly offers her cash to balance what’s he’s given to her married siblings, and she seizes on the gift to realize her dream of opening a restaurant. While supporting her divorced, morose brother Alex (David Rosetti), who’s nursing a hopeless desire to become a well-paid standup comic, she gets to know her ten-year old niece Adele (Nadia Tonen), and finds that she enjoys spending time with the kid. (Surrogate parenthood is perhaps easier, and more fun.) She connects with Callie (Kate Lynch), an older neighbor who advises her that marriage is not obligatory for every woman. And she adopts a lovable rescue dog called Trudy. What more could she ask for?
Near the close Jennifer Deyell’s script takes a somewhat risky turn when Gaby, out on a hike, runs into a nice guy (Jonathan Watton) who’s lost in the woods, and they have an agreeable conversation. For a moment it seems that romance might blossom and the usual rom-com cycle could materialize after all.
Happily, the film steers away from that easy resolution, leaving Gaby—and us—with the recognition that women who find the single life to their liking shouldn’t be stigmatized as losers or “spinsters.”
That’s a fine message, and the film is pleasant enough in delivering it. And while the cast is a good one and the craft crew (cinematographer Stephanie Web Biran, production designer Michael Pierson, editor Simon Smith and composer Daniel Ledwell) do impressive work, it never transcends the feeling of an extended sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” brought up to date. Peretti’s rather blunt performance is part of the problem; Gaby’s right when she admits at the start that she’s irritating, and while Peretti tones that quality down as things progresses, in the end it’s still there to some degree.
So while “Spinster” deserves credit for ditching rom-com cliché, it could have been cleverer and more insightful about it.