Movie Review: ‘UNLOVABLE’ a cutesy but thoughtful look at sex addiction

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Kip Mooney // Film Critic

UNLOVABLE

Not rated, 80 minutes.
Director: Suzi Yoonessi
Writers: Charlene deGuzmanSarah Adina Smith and Mark Duplass
Cast: Charlene deGuzmanJohn HawkesMelissa Leo and Paul James

Tales of addiction and recovery are usually left to the realm of drama, and sometimes even horror. Talking about such dire topics in a comedy is really tricky to pull off. So, while some of the flourishes in UNLOVABLE don’t really mesh with the seriousness of the issues presented, it never feels less than earnest. Between that and the committed performances, the film, like its protagonist, kinda-sorta have success.

Charlene deGuzman writes and stars as Joy, a character based loosely on herself. She seems to have it all: a job she enjoys, a boyfriend (Paul James) who treats her right and a nice place in L.A. But she still frequents a local bar and picks up random men. Unable to keep it under control, her boyfriend dumps her and kicks her out of his house. They work together too, so she loses her job, sending her entire world crashing down.

Joy enters a 12-step program for her addiction to sex and unhealthy relationships, to get on the road to recovery. Seeing a lot of Joy in herself, the group leader Maddie (Melissa Leo) takes a chance, sponsoring her and letting her crash in her mother’s guest house, where her estranged brother Jim (John Hawkes) looks after them. But it comes with a cost. Joy has to follow a strict 30-day detox plan: no calling her ex, no texting hook-up partners and no masturbating.

But of course that’s easier said than done. Desperate for affection and attention, she starts coaxing the anti-social Jim out of his shell. Eventually, they start jamming together in his garage. The film succeeds by not evolving their relationship in a typical fashion. Jim takes their music and Joy’s recovery more seriously than she does, which gives it a complexity that other indie rom-coms lack.

That’s a big mark in its favor, since UNLOVABLE dips too far into whimsy at times. Joy’s room is overflowing with stuffed animals, her job is on a Sesame Street-esque kids’ show, and there are even subtitles when an angry Jim and Joy literally communicate through music. (Even her contraband vibrator has bunny ears.)

But for bravely going there – sex addiction is rarely tackled in film at all, let alone with any nuance – and marching to the beat of its own drum, UNLOVABLE is hard to love but easy to admire.

[Grade: B]

UNLOVABLE is now playing in select theaters and available on VOD.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.