It’s 2018, can we please leave vaping behind? Surely that’s a reasonable request, no? Michael Sarrow’s feature length debut Living Room Coffin feels like every other Sundance of SXSW title we’ve seen over the past few years.
Aesthetically it’s very run of the mill with pretty scenery shots that hang for a little too long as well as extreme close ups that don’t always need to be there. Although throughout this film it wasn’t the overdone aesthetic I was too concerned about.
Living Room Coffin opens with a shot of two obviously sexually awkward men sitting atop a coffin trying to one up each other in how much they have looked at women, which in itself is funny, why would you even compete such a thing?
A common theme throughout the film is the idea of “sad comedy” which for me at least does not hit the mark, in theory this film should be dark, and it isn’t. It cannot decide whether it wants to be dark or quirky and the constant shift in tone kills my investment in the story.
Eden Reigel steps out of the main stream limelight of admittedly horrible films such as 2009’s “Year One” and 1999’s cult “classic” “American Pie” to play Polly, a mid twenties girl who is searching for answers while dealing with the trials and tribulations of her far from normal life.
For the most part, Riegel kills her role, delivering the quirky dialogue with a real naivety that plays into her character pretty well.
The problems however start to arrive when Blake Berris (Breaking Bad, Longmire) arrives, playing her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend Seth. The problem is, they start the film with such animosity for each other but then very quickly get back together.
Director and writer Michael Sarrow seems to have struggles writing relationships between two people as the romantic relationship between Polly and Seth felt wooden and awkward and not in a way that it could be awkward if you hadn’t been together for a while, awkward in a way that there was never anything said that made you think it was a real or even partially real relationship.
The same can be seen in the relationship between Polly and her grandmother Edith, played here by Irene Roseen (Star Trek, The Family Man). The character of Edith is written with such a cold and impersonal hand, almost as if the character was written in last minute to provide some depth to this already paper-thin plot.
However, after all that I’ve said about Sarrow’s inability to write character relationships he does nail the friendship between Peter and Jake who here are played by Johnny Pemberton who you may remember from 2009’s “In The Loop” 2012’s “21 Jump Street” and 2014’s “22 Jump Street” and Linas Phillips who appeared in 2017’s “Twin Peaks: The Return”.
The relationship between these two is awkward in the best way, imagine you and your best friend, the inside jokes, the ridiculous “would you rather” type questions.
Just two guys who love to make each other laugh and will do anything to make a quick buck, their small but frequent appearances in the film really do lift the mood and provide some comic relief from the awkward attempt at “comedy” from Sarrow.
Despite its flaws Living Room Coffin does have its plus’. The lighting in every frame is near on perfect, the cinematography is mostly brilliant if not overdone as we see this same looking film 50 times over coming out of the big summer film festivals, which is not to say it’s not a winning formula, look at 2017’s “Ingrid Goes West” for example, a film that relishes it’s flaws and is able to overcome them with a good script and consistent tone.
Living Room Coffin suffers most from having a horribly inconsistent tone, not being able to distinguish between being a dark comedy, an absurdist comedy or a drama.
I can’t help but feel that Sarrow was trying too hard to make something dark and ending up missing the mark. I will say, he wrote a very interesting script, one that makes you want to keep watching just to see what it throws up next.
There are some good scenes in there, for example: Polly and her best friend / work colleague Jessica played here by Sarah Smick (Friended To Death, The Bold And The Beautiful) are sitting outside of their place of work after a long day comparing the amount of work each of them had to do, almost trying to one up each other in a friendly competition.
In conclusion, Living Room Coffin lacks the emotional punch it seemed to need, it advertises itself as a dark comedy but fails to be either dark nor comedic.
If this were a straight comedy or a straight drama I think it would be a lot better and a lot more interesting. The final pay off and the main “twist” of the film also both fall extremely flat. Sarrow obviously wanted to create something the likes of an A24 film (the people behind Lady Bird, The Lobster, etc) but has missed the mark. Living Room Coffin feels like A24 lite.
THE QUICK SELL
Michael Sarrow’s feature length debut Living Room Coffin feels like every other Sundance of SXSW title we’ve seen over the past few years