Intelligent 'Opposite' Should Attract a Discerning Audience By KEVIN THOMAS, Times
"The Souler Opposite"--a play on
"polar opposite"--fits neatly into the romantic comedy genre yet also
transcends it with uncommon wit and sensitivity. The result is a spiky,
engaging love story that aims considerably higher than the usual lowest common
denominator of so many mainstream movies.
In his feature debut,
writer-director Bill Kalmenson signals us early on that we may be in for
something special. He opens the film with a scene in which a couple of teenage
Valley boys are talking about sex, then fast- forwards 20
years--moving from 1971 to 1991--without breaking their conversation. In this
way Kalmenson deftly makes the point that in their 30s, Christopher Meloni's
Barry and Timothy Busfield's Robert are still talking about women in the same
way they did as teens. Robert is now a dentist whose marriage is not as solid
as he thinks it is, and Barry is a struggling stand-up comic who, as he says in
his act, "is looking for a woman to like him for who he pretends to be." The
question Kalmenson, himself a stand-up comic and actor, poses with considerable
grace and insight: Can a comic who indulges in humor in his act that is
inescapably sexist and a feminist college senior find love and happiness? When
Barry and Janel Moloney's Thea meet, they certainly do strike each other as
polar opposites, but of course this is not the case.
Kalmenson and his actors develop Barry and Thea's exceedingly wary relationship with impressive skill, as Thea becomes willing to look beyond Barry's compulsive jokester personality to a man capable of extraordinary tenderness and vulnerability. Barry has fallen so hard and so fast for Thea that he opens himself completely to her. He wants the same from her, but it never occurs to him that he may not be prepared to receive the total trust he so craves. That Kalmenson is drawing from personal experience surely gives his film its resonance. Through Barry and Thea we're able to perceive the whole issue of commitment in the skeptical '90s, and it is refreshing to watch people who are smart and don't hide it.
Both Meloni and Moloney are
exciting discoveries for those of us who have not seen them before. Possessed
of great intensity, Meloni is a mature performer, well-seasoned on TV. Moloney
has a style that
recalls Diane Keaton but not so strongly that she doesn't come
across as a distinctive personality. As a "thirtysomething"
alumnus, Busfield is probably better known than the film's stars and is a
delight in his own right, heading a substantial supporting cast that includes
John Putch as a political campaign organizer who may be the next man in Thea's
life. "The Souler Opposite" looks as if it cost more than it
probably did and especially benefits from Peter Himmelman's score, as elegant
as it is unobtrusive.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and sex-related
material. Times guidelines: adult themes and situations. '
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'The Souler Opposite': A Fine Line Between Anger And Humor
By JANET MASLIN
Anyone who can get past the
title pun and the opening shot of misogyny in ``The Souler Opposite'' is
like Bill Kalmenson's almost film in spite of itself. Its hero, like Kalmenson,
is a stand-up comic, and his mean-spirited wisecracks earn him a well-deserved
sock in the nose early in the story. The rest of the film is about his struggle
to get involved in a real romance and be less of a jerk. Once the sardonic
character of Barry Singer (Chrisopher Meloni) worms his way into your
affections, you may just wish him success.
The same goes for Kalmenson, who is nothing if not enterprising. He has based this story on his own experiences (including trouble with a girlfriend who worked in Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign) and directed it with reasonably Woody Allenish aplomb. It is being distributed by Buffalo Jump Productions, a company of which he happens to be president and founder. And he showed up last January in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance, Slamdance and other offshoot film festivals, claiming that his film was an entry in an event called Souldance. The only entry, as a matter of fact.
Fortunately, he has also made a
film that deserves to see the light of day. Though its plotting creaks, the
principal characters are engaging: Barry himself, who is his own worst enemy,
and Robert Levin (Timothy Busfield), his romance coach and best friend.
In a film that's as much about anger as humor, both these guys remain
flabbergasted that women resist them. Janel Moloney blithely plays Thea
Douglas, an earnest person who has so little in common with Barry that she
naturally sends him head over heels. All he wants from a woman, Barry maintains
in his nightclub act, is somebody who'll like him for who he pretends to be.
With shades of ``Seinfeld,''
``The Souler Opposite'' also illustrates the ego wars of the stand-up comedy
game. All he needs to get a nightclub job, Barry is told, is to kill about 40
guys competing for the same spot.
``The Souler Opposite'' is rated
R. It includes profanity and sexual situations.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company
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of my affection
man meets idealistic younger woman in this sturdy and surprisingly good
romantic comedy from first-time writer-director Bill Kalmenson. On the
day he turned 16, Barry Singer's swinging father bought him a hooker
for his birthday, a gift that pretty much set the tone for the adult
Barry's (Chris Meloni) attitudes toward women and sex. As a struggling
stand-up comedian playing to crowds in various L.A. dives, Barry's patently
sexist act focuses on the treachery of women, the soul-crushing pitfalls
of relationships and his own hermetically sealed emotions. But after
getting himself punched out in a club parking lot (by a woman) after
a typically offensive gig, Barry meets Thea (Janel Moloney), an attractive
23-year-old college senior who could prove him wrong: She's just as
smart, maybe even funnier and isn't remotely interested in a relationship
-- at first. It's a pretty standard boy-meets-girl setup, and at close
to two hours, it begins to feel like an epic: The film chronicles not
only Barry and Thea's lengthy courtship -- with plenty of raunchy pillow
talk thrown in -- and an inevitable bust-up, but also follows Thea as
she goes to work for Jerry Brown on his doomed 1992 presidential campaign.
(The film, for reasons never made clear, is set at the end of the Reagan
era.) But it's never less than engaging: Kalmenson's a smart writer
and Meloni and Moloney are two very likable actors with enough chemistry
to make even a scene in which Shakepeare is read aloud in bed actually
work. Added bonuses are Amit Bhattacharya's sharp cinematography and
Timothy Busfield's performance as Barry's best friend, a dentist who
loses his wife to another woman: It's a farcical tragedy that, like
so much of Kalmenson's script, reveals quite a bit about male insecurity
and braggadocio. — Ken Fox
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Here's something we don't see enough of: a grown-up film about dating, commitment, and the niggling little fears that chip away at our best efforts. Christopher Meloni (TV's Law and Order: SVU) stars as Barry, a thirtysomething standup comic with a bitter, sexist act that inflames as many people as it amuses. When a leather clad biker gives his critique with fists, Thea (Janel Moloney of TV's The West Wing), a stable, sensible college student 10 years his junior, picks him up literally and figuratively. They're hardly a perfect match: age differences, lifestyle clashes, and sheer philosophical outlook seem to doom them from the outset. But hope lies in the words of a palm reader who declares them "souler opposites," in other words, made for each other. Meloni is excellent as an overgrown adolescent who struggles against his better nature and devolves into a glib teenager whenever he hangs out with his equally arrested high school buddy (Timothy Busfield), who fuels his act with more sexist, testosterone-powered rants on sex and women. Moloney gives dignity to her Thea's activism and never plays her new-age mellowness for laughs. She's playful, witty, smart, and just a bit impulsive. Director Bill Kalmenson manages to bring new life to the clichés such romantic comedies are built from by taking a look with a fresh eye. It's a sweetly modest, undeservingly overlooked film that still holds out hope for grown-up love. --Sean Axmaker --
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Romantic "Souler Opposite" Shines ***½
By Charles Britton
About five minutes into "The Souler Opposite," a romantic comedy preceded by little fanfare, I suddenly realized I was watching a very good movie, one of the best so far this year.
It's a small feature, from first-time writer-director Bill Kalmenson, although done with such assurance that he appears to be a natural behind the camera.
The film is also very well made, belying what must be a modest budget, with fine photography by Amit Bhaltacharya. And the cast is full of excellent comic performers.
Kalmenson is a stand-up comic and sometimes actor who's evidently been able to make a good enough living to float this project. (That's him playing the father taking the tour at the very end.)
I don't know where he picked up his directing skill, but he knows how to stage a movie. He has transferred his sense of timing to film medium, and he has knack of building up to a laugh and setting a joke ticking so that it goes off later in the script. Some people can do this whereas other can't, just as some people can tell a joke and other's always mess up.
She (stiffly): I consider dating an archaic ritual that has long outgrown its social usefulness.
He: OK, OK. would you consider a completely superficial interaction in which we both give in to our casual impulses?
He's Barry (Christopher Meloni), a dedicated but none-too-successful stand-up comedian. She's Thea (Janel Moloney), a younger woman who wants her university degree and has a yen for high-minded political activism, including the futility of Jerry Brown's '92 presidential ego trip.
Barry pursues and wins her, sort of, only to lose her when she feels the call of freedome just as he is dealing with his fears of intimacy. (OK, it's not that original - but it's keenly observed.)
The third main character is Robert (Timothy Busfield), a dentist and Barry's friend since boyhood, dealing with his own women problems.
All three are right on target. Meloni is an actor you may recognize because he's in a lot of movies and TV shows; often he plays a bad guy, but here he shows a surprising flair for deadpan comedy. Moloney is less well known but has a similar resume while Busfield is widely known for his TV work, especially on "thirtysomething," a show on which Kalmenson also worked.
One grace note among many in "The Souler Opposite": We begin with Barry and Robert as Valley teen-agers.
Kalmenson managed to find a couple of kids who actually look like younger versions of the two men. I very much look forward to seeing more Kalmenson projects. He's got what it takes.
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Gripping film "The Souler Opposite" soars with crisp writing and a talented cast By Ross Anthony
Fearing a dud in "The Souler Opposite" which opens Friday at Pasadena's Academy 6 Theaters I got a surprise: a wonderful movie.
In the spirit of "When Harry Met Sally," "The Souler Opposite" is a romantic comedy , or a romantic mockery as producer, Tani Cohen puts it.
Barry (Chris Meloni) is a comedian whose loveless love life leaves him nothing, save for great stand-up comedy material. He's not much into depth. As he puts it, "Nobody gets to really know me-not even me!" He's smart, sharp and ambitious enough, but not the proverbial nice guy.
Into the picture walks Thea (Janel Moloney), a political activist operating on an imperfect, but spiritual, level. Barry falls in love. Moloney is absolutely awesome as the tactful-yet-raw-truth counterbalance to Barry's surface witticisms.
Moloney and Meloni work as well together as their names read. The magic between the two is crisp, fresh and so real it draws me into the picture until I feel like I'm there snuggling between them in bed. This film defines the word intimate. The pillow talk scenes are performed faultlessly and the dialogue is so sincere that you'll forget you're in a theater.
Moloney is captivating--not with a Kim Bassinger kind of beauty--but a Princess Diana charm that keeps you waiting at the edge of her every word. Meloni rides the Barry lead in a Woody Allen style, but without the pitiful lack of pride. And with a James Taylor seriousness lurking underneath his one-liners, he's charming as well.
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"A surprise discovery: a delightful romantic comedy with real wit in the script, marvelously transferred to the screen. The Souler Opposite is a top-notch piece of work, all the more amazing in coming from a first-time writer-director."
Box Office Magazine
" 1/2 "
The saying goes that you should write about what you know. Bill
Kalmenson does just that, and superbly. The long-time stand-up comic creates a
character, Barry Singer (a wonderfully deadpan Christopher Meloni), who hides
his insecurities with the opposite sex behind a steady stream of one-liners.
"Sixty percent of marriages end in divorce," one woman tells him. "Better than
the 40 percent that end in death," replies Barry.
That same woman (a radiant Janel Moloney) sees through the
brittle exterior. After accusing him of using the world as his personal comedy
club, she moves in with him. Naturally the course of true love runs far from
smooth. They fight, she leaves. Simultaneously, Kalmenson peels back the layers
to show the often unfunny world of comedy clubs, places run by egomaniacs with
the power to make or break a career. Meanwhile, Barry's boyhood chum (Timothy
Busfield) acts as sounding board/confessor/accomplice while totally unable to
control his own life. The three are a fascinating microcosm of human nature,
proficiently presided over by Kalmenson. -- Mike Kerrigan
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Note: The following review is
from the AFI screening of "The Souler Opposite" that appeared in The
Comic meets girl. Comic pursues girl. Comic dates girl. Girl
stops thinking comic is funny and their relationship turns into no laughing matter.
But "The Souler Opposite," overall, is oddly endearing even as it sweeps
toward a too-slow conclusion.
Screenwriter-director Bill Kalmenson, a former comic himself,
believably conveys the comic's life and angst. The suffering here,
professionally and romantically, seems entirely realistic.
In a romantic comedy where one-liners are an integral part of
the proceedings, comic Barry Singer (Christopher Meloni) milks his eternal
adolescence and mistrust of relationships, using those topics for fuel in his
stand-up comedy act.
Finally finding someone he can care for, younger woman Thea Douglas (Janel Moloney), Barry discovers it's nearly impossible to lower his defenses as he hurtles into sensitive areas of his life, like love, commitment and trust.
Meloni does a stand-out job as a stand-up in this ingenuous
legitimately touching scenes -- as when he finds himself in a family situation
with Thea's clan and is genuinely moved by their affection. Moloney, for her
part, is appealing and believable as a political activist with a sense of humor
and romance. Timothy Busfield has a decent, supporting comic role, but his
contribution to the film could have been pushed further into dark comedy.
Overall, the characters have a refreshing, natural feeling, and
that's likely to bring "The Souler Opposite" a wider release than the
-- Review by Michael Farkash
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THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
by Ron Givens
If you're going to emulate a movie, you might as well pick a great one. Director/writer/clarinetist/former standup comedian Bill Kalmenson modeled this sweet-tart romance on "Annie Hall" by director/writer/clarinetist/former standup comedian Woody Allen.
Both movies have a male lead named Singer - Alvy in the 1977 "Annie," Barry in "Souler." Allen played his Singer but Kalmenson cast Christopher Meloni as Barry, a macho jerk whose floundering comedy act and life only gain a semblance of humanity after he falls for Thea, a college senior/ political campaign worker. "All I want," the pre-enlightened Barry says on stage, "is a girl who will like me for who I pretend to be." The movie meanders through romantic ups and downs but has a lot of wit and charm.