Producer: Merland Hoxha   Director: Merland Hoxha   Screenplay: Merland Hoxha   Cast: Grant Gunderson, Kendall Chappell, Austin Lauer, Olivia Lemmon and John Briddell  Distributor: Merland Productions

Grade: D

One can imagine that the premise of Merland Hoxha’s modest little picture—a project that might have been intended to serve as a calling card but will probably close more doors than it opens—could have been employed in one of those glossy Doris Day-Rock Hudson bedroom comedies of the 1960s.  If it had, though, the production values would have been far higher and the ending happier.  The movie probably would have been a lot more entertaining than this drab, flimsy drama, too.

The main plot thread involves Nate (Grant Gunderson), some sort of mid-level business executive in Los Angeles, and his live-in fiancée Jessica (Kendall Chappell), who is also a career woman.  They seem happy enough, until Nate gets an assignment from his boss (Jon Briddell) to go to New York and take over the management of the office there, which has been poorly run, for six months. 

Nate is worried that during his absence Jessica might take up with a co-worker she’s been mentioning lately, a fellow we never see.  His solution is to ask his best friend John (Austin Lauer) to attempt to seduce Jessica in a test of her fidelity. John is reluctant, but agrees out of a sense of friendship.

The only real subplot at work is a relationship John has been trying to establish with Amber (Olivia Lemmon); in fact, the picture opens with a fairly long sequence apparently representing their initial date.  It doesn’t go well, since Amber keeps taking call after call on her cell phone as he’s struggling to have a conversation with her.  When they encounter one another later in the movie, she expresses annoyance that he’d never called her after their date.  (The wonder is that he’d ever have bothered to talk to her again after the way she acted; apparently she sees nothing wrong in what she did, blissfully offering an explanation about helping a girlfriend decide what to wear that makes it even worse.)

Nate, of course, comes off as an insufferable jerk for treating Jessica as he does, but she has to bear some responsibility for putting up with him.  Presumably John is meant to be the sympathetic member of the bunch, but he’s no prize either, allowing himself to be used in such a scummy scheme.  Perhaps he deserves Amber after all.

One can imagine Hoxha’s scenario having a chance if it were played as light comedy or farce, but apparently it’s intended as a deadly serious commentary on modern relationships, and really can’t survive such treatment.  The script consists largely of long, one-on-one dialogue sequences that sound like mediocre improvisations, though they probably aren’t.  It doesn’t help that the acting, especially by Gunderson and Lauer, is wooden and stiff; the women are only marginally better.

The technical side of things is also mediocre.  Madeline O’Brien’s production design is okay, but the cinematography by Ludovica Isidori and Wey Wang is unpleasantly glaring, though the bad lighting has much to do with that.  Though the movie is only seventy minutes long, as directed leadenly by Hoxha and edited languidly by Juliette Edwards it feels much longer.

“The Departure” will make you want to take a powder long before the unpleasant plot reaches its clumsy end.