LAFF 2014: Trouble Dolls
A cross between the millennial musings of Lena Dunham and the dimwittedness of Romy and Michele, Trouble Dolls is a female buddy comedy for today’s self-aware art hipsters, or more specifically those looking to poke fun at them. Written and directed by its co-stars, actress Olivia (Jennifer Prediger) and artist Nicole (Jess Weixler) are best friends and roommates living the boho life in New York City. Their electricity is off (by choice they say), their rent is short, and they are starving (or on a cleanse, it’s all about perspective). When Olivia’s beloved cat Seagull dies unexpectedly, Nicole decides a weekend vacation is in order. Utilizing her father’s private jet, she whisks Olivia off to California to visit her aunt Kimberley (Megan Mullally).
Without the foresight to charge their phone, let alone phone ahead to inform her aunt of their arrival, the two hitch a ride with another person at the airport (Will Forte), which Olivia insists will work out fine. Along the way to auntie’s house, they realize their chauffeur is on a prescription pill cocktail that may soon turn ugly. So they bolt, walking the rest of the way. Upon their arrival, Nicole’s aunt welcomes them with open arms, doting upon them (a little too graciously for Olivia’s liking), and lets slip that Nicole’s family is on a planned trip without her. Nicole sulks while Olivia is wooed by Aunt Kimberley, a host for a talent TV reality show called “That Special Something”, into auditioning for her show. After the two girls have their tarot cards read the next day, Nicole believes she should help Olivia with her audition, turning it into a mixture of her art and Olivia’s monologue.
With faces painted white and adorned in black trash bags, the girls go to the audition to perform in front of the judges, Lance Bass, Christopher Reid, and of course Aunt Kimberley. A strange mixture of spoken word, dialogue, flower backdrop, and projected images, their art piece is hilariously baffling. Afterwards Olivia is upset over her audition as Nicole begins to see the unhealthiness of their co-dependence. The two take their aggressions out on one another and as they begin to change, they have to figure out if their friendship can change with them.
Prediger and Weixler play off one another well and hold a believable friendship. Their jokes, however, aren’t as easily swallowed and while it’s easy to laugh at their naiveté to a certain point, eventually their obtuse and self-centered traits make for a heavier atmosphere than I think they were really going for. Their A-list co-stars handle the satire with far more ease, but are given some questionable character twists. Megan Mullally is fantastic as an oft-drunk washed up starlet, but is also an oddly predatory-like closeted lesbian whose advances on Olivia start out as funny then quickly move to uncomfortable. Jeffrey Tambor equally shines in his small role as the girls’ landlord, but a landlord who happens to be in an on-again off-again relationship with Nicole. They seemed to have aimed for awkward but went flying over their mark.
As a first directorial attempt on both Prediger and Weixler’s part, they’ve fashioned a friendship comedy that relies too much on the love its main characters hold for each other to buy over their audience. The film’s title comes from the tiny dolls Olivia whispers her hopes and troubles to, placing them beneath her pillow to manage her and Nicole’s anxieties. But no doll can save these girls from their troubles, as in the end the girls (and the movie as a whole) seem hardly willing to truly manage their own destinies.