Dallas IFF 2013 Review: THE BOUNCEBACK Thrives On Honest Awkwardness
Comedy can come from honesty, and that's The Bounceback's greatest strength. While much of the film is over the top with its antics, there's a crushing truth to the scenarios within that may hit you unexpectedly. Breakups are rarely clean and they often leave a smear across various friendships because of that. As hard as Bryan Poyser's film may make you laugh, it will also make you notice how much we can mess things up for ourselves if we aren't careful. Another great strength is that this film does very contemporary things with how we build and work out relationships. A girl doesn't have to give you her name. She just has to call her phone from yours once and give you the OK to get in contact with her again. Yet we don't often call each other. Instead, we text, and through this careful and sometimes spontaneous conversation we form a bond with another person while also giving us time to think through our answers.
Yet, as with any form of communication, there is the potential for awkwardness and The Bounceback plays on that with a keen sense of humor. We can become insecure if we don't get an immediate response. There are unspoken things and feelings that can complicate matters far more than we ever intend. Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and Cathy (Ashley Bell) are fresh off of a breakup due to parting ways in Austin in pursuit of their individual dreams on opposite coasts. When Stan sees that Cathy is planning a visit to her friend Kara (Sara Paxton) in Austin one weekend, he decides to surprise his friend Jeff (Zach Cregger) with a visit to Austin as well. Aware of how awkward and wild the idea is, Stan doesn't let Cathy know but simply hopes to run into her while they are visiting for a weekend trip. As one would expect, nothing quite goes to plan and complicating matters is the fact that Jeff and Kara are in the midst of a bad breakup with each other as well, meaning that they don't want to see each other and are more than reluctant to be forced to be in each other's company for the sake of Stan and Cathy.
Right from the start we are introduced to a way that Jeff is coping with his bad breakup: air sex. Done in competition on a stage in front of other enthusiasts, this exhibition mimics having intercourse with an invisible and pretend sexual partner in often vulgar and graphic detail. Part mime, part hip-thrusting, this is a hilarious and rowdy way of getting out sexual frustration or just having fun. Jeff tries to get Stan to join in but his main pursuit is attempting to setup a casual run-in with Cathy instead. The film is never visually graphic as far as nudity or raunchy sight gags, but it provides plenty of belly-laughs through sharp wit, bad situations, and frequently crude language. One particular interaction between Kara and Cathy exemplifies this when they talk about their partner's genitals. "His dick is so.... perfect," Cathy sighs. "No," Kara exclaims. "Was. You gotta put that dick in the past tense." Sex is the revolving theme on Kara's mouth while Jeff and his two roommates are just as embroiled in having sex on the brain way too much because of their equal love in air sex. But Cathy and Stan are still hopelessly lost.
Austin isn't small in population, but the size of the downtown area and the highlights on the fringes are close enough to give you the small town vibe. That means there are unfortunate ways that all four of them have the potential to run into each other. And they do. Those moments are pulled off with aplomb, having as much fun and awkward interactions as one could ever hope. And, as much as Kara and Jeff don't want to admit it, they are constantly on their mind as well. At one point, Jeff and Stan decide to help each other out. They both delete Kara and Cathy's respective contact information from their phones after a countdown from three. It's a moment that showcases how easy it is to fall into a trap of re-interacting with someone that doesn't allow you to move on and how technology and the immediacy of interaction is so complicated today. We even see how annoying it is to have a text message's contents pop up on our phone's screen without prompting (Boo, iPhone) and the way Poyser and his crew have interwoven texting into the film is clever and gives a real sense of the rush that texting can have. Of course, all of this would simply be facts touched upon that don't result in a cohesive and entertaining film if they failed to pull it off.
Thankfully, The Bounceback shines with tragic honesty from an organic storyline and situations. Sure, the air sex may be so over the top that it outshines important moments, but there are plenty of key scenes away from that that hit just as hard. The real key, though, is the way that all the actors play it with a zany realism, with Stahl-David given the complex role of playing a guy that just can't get it together who has insecurities and hang-ups while also being someone you root for. We like Cathy and Stan together. We don't see why they are bad for each other. Yet, living on opposite coasts, we know how hard it is to agree on a relationship of not being physically there for each other at such a young age. Poyser gives us a thoughtful exploration of how breakups are rarely clean getaways. A careful balance between hilarious vulgarity and clever honesty, The Bounceback is the rare comedy you want to re-watch again and again with a revolving audience. Don't just plan a casual run-in with this film; pursue it.