Year of the Carnivore *
Directed By: Sook-Yin Lee.
Written By: Sook-Yin Lee
Starring: Cristin Milioti (Sammy Smalls), Mark Rendall (Eugene), Kevin McDonald (Mr. Smalls), Sheila McCarthy (Mrs. Smalls), Will Sasso (Dirk), Ali Liebert (Sylvia), Patrick Gilmore (Todd).
Year of the Carnivore is a romantic comedy that spends so much time trying to be hip, that it forgets to be either romantic or comedic. The movie is so relentlessly quirky that I never really got involved in the movie, I just sat there and watched in horror as I was subjected to one stupid scene play out after another.
Sammy Smalls (Cristin Milioti) is a 21 year old cancer survivor with one gimpy leg, who works as a store detective at a grocery store. Essentially, her job is to catch old people trying to steal meat, or teenagers trying to steal porn, and then turn them over to Dirk (Will Sasso) who then takes them out back and beats them up, then takes their picture. She is a little to into her job, as everyday she shows up in a more elaborate disguise to try and fool potential shoplifters. Her parents (Kevin McDonald and Sheila McCarthy) are a little too over protective, and still want her to move back home. Their marriage does not seem to function unless Sammy is there to act as a buffer.
What keeps Sammy going from one day to the next is her crush on Eugene, a local musician who spends his days playing his quirky and personal songs on the street, and his nights playing in a loud, incoherent rock band, that for some reason seems to be on the verge of making it big. The two of them like each other, and after a long night o drinking, they fall into bed together, and things do horribly wrong when he tries to touch her and she starts laughing. She’s ticklish. So what does Eugene do? Tells Sammy to go out and learn how to have sex properly if she wants to be with him.
Now, most self respecting women I know would at this point, kick Eugene in the balls, call him an asshole and storm out. But not Sammy. She takes him seriously, and really does go on a journey of sexual self discovery. But she really does not know what to do. Attempts to use a vibrator, pick up guys at the bar, and have a threesome do not go well. She ends up taking guys she catches stealing out to the woods to practice sex with them. If she was a man, we’d call that rape. But she’s a woman so we call it quirky.
The movie, written and directed by Sook Yin Lee spends so much time trying to be cool - with its hip attitude towards sex, its soundtrack full of “indie” bands, and its constant need to be “clever”, that it never really just settles down and tells its story. All of the characters are so of full of idiosyncrasy, even the tiny role of Ali Liebert as a porn star, turned sausage girl, turned university student turned philosopher, that I never really got invested in the characters. When all of the people in a movie belong in a mental hospital, it’s hard to truly care about them. The movie tries so hard to be funny, that it never really is, just painful and embarrassing. Sammy’s sexual quest is not enlightening or enjoyable for her, just embarrassing. The scene where she has a threesome with a married couple - with the mother lactating no less - is just down right difficult to watch.
The only thing that really makes the movie at all watchable is the performance by Milioti in the lead role. True, she has to deliver some truly inane dialogue, and has more quirks than the rest of the characters combined, she somehow remains lovable throughout. She reminded me of Brittany Murphy at her best, and the scene where she dances around her room trying to make herself feel sexy, is quite endearing in its way. When she is not stuck delivering terrible dialogue, she is quite the charmer. I look forward to seeing her in a real role. Rendell is no where near as charming as Eugene. He is incredibly awkward, yet he somehow gets beautiful women to fall into bed with him at the drop of a hat. He never has a moment of genuine emotion in the film.
Year of the Carnivore is insufferable because the movie never really settles down and tells its story. If the film would just relax and tell its story. It needed to let Milioti play a real character. Because it didn’t, Year of the Carnivore is just plain painful to watch.