‘L for Leisure’
Directors: Whitney Horn, Lev Kalman
Stars: Gabriel Abrantes, Melissa Barrera
4 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a small handful of people who would ever find “L for Leisure” funny, and they’re not the people who enjoy bad cinema. It’s far weirder than that. It’s only pretending to be bad cinema anyway, and only at times, and only in a way. The badness comes in the acting, in which actors — most presumably non-pros, though one is “35 Shots of Rum” and “Simon Killer” star Mati Diop — are actually pretty great: they uncannily approximate the stilted line deliveries and stand-in-place body language of random friends acting in freshman year student films. This can’t be easy. As anyone knows who’s seen films that try to be bad — unlike something like “The Room,” which is trying to be good — true on-screen incompetence is hard to fake. In a sense great-bad screen acting is as hard as great-great screen acting.
“L for Leisure”’s ensemble of characters (though that’s a charitable definition) are grad students, and we only see them on their many, many, many vacations, holidays and getaways. It’s the early 1990s, for reasons that are best divined by any grad students watching the film, though that gives the filmmakers a bygone era of amateur filmmaking to emulate. And it gives everyone something to talk about. They regularly pepper their chatter with tongue-in-cheek namedrops of early ’90s products: Crystal Pepsi, Haagen-Dazs. A foot race begins with the judge looking at her watch and saying, “I’ll be Swatching you.” When they’re not being corporate whores, they vomit up half-baked thesis paper monologues, deploying terms like “the vernacular landscape” and talking about how the concurrent L.A. Riots may not really be a race war because are we so sure we know a what real race war looks like? Then it’s back to talking about the cleansing nature of Snapple.
There are about three jokes in “L for Leisure,” and that in itself is another joke. It’s committed to what it wants to do, and at heart it’s a kind of drone film, settling into a steady rhythm of stiff hang-out scenes toggled with lengthy montages of sightseeing set to sparkly, treble-heavy electronica. These latter stretches are jokes too, but a weird, unexpected poetry emerges as the vacay spots become more remote. Even a visit to what looks like a Laser Tag joint becomes a riot of inscrutable lights and bodies in motion. Soon even the philosophizing starts to seem more genuine, if still jokey. One guy (talking to his dog, it later seems) discusses the cleansing and mind-expanding nature of vacations and travel. But even this includes him confessing, “Boogie boarding now is really crucial.” Anyone looking for anything “L for Leisure” has zero interest in doing, which is most things, will leave in a huff. But those who catch onto it — and realize it’s not just a joke, or it is, but it’s more complicated than that, you know what I mean? — will be in for a ride.