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Review: Adam Wingard's What Fun We Were Having, starring A.J Bowen (Fantasia 2011)

Aug. 1, 2011by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: An anthology of short films about date rape. In the first segment, a young man who's recently outed himself, takes advantage of the neighborhood stud. In the second, a young woman who wakes up every morning with fresh bruises has her best friend stay the night to observe the strange phenomena that take place every evening. In the third, a travelling meat salesman (A.J Bowen) uses hypnosis to victimize a young woman, but soon winds up a victim himself. Finally, in the forth story, an aimless young man (Joe Swanberg) spends the day with his roommates' sister, and, under the influence, makes the biggest mistake of his life.

REVIEW: Despite the pithy title, WHAT FUN WE WERE HAVING: 4 STORIES ABOUT DATE RAPE is not a satire, but is instead a rather somber, moody examination of the phenomena, as it exists under different circumstances. Of the four, only the third has any genre elements, with hypnosis working it's way into the plot. Other than that, it's an avant-garde work, which should come as no surprise coming from Adam Wingard, who's quickly establishing himself as a micro-budget David Lynch between this, and his work on A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, & POP SKULL.

Wingard is represented in a big way at Fantasia this year, with almost his entire filmography being shown at various points throughout the festival. WHAT FUN WE WERE HAVING is my first exposure to his work, and while I had a decidedly mixed reaction to the film, I'm nevertheless quite impressed.

As with most anthology films, WHAT FUN WE WERE HAVING is hit and miss. I didn't care for the first story, HOT BOYS, which I thought could have used a more empathetic protagonist than Jasper Lee (who nevertheless contributed a great musical score to the film). Lee's performance is a bit too self-indulgent for my tastes- and it kept the first short from being anything more than a curio.

I felt more or less the same way about the second film, although the premise was more interesting, and the resolution was inspired. However, due to my dislike of the first two shorts, I nearly walked out at this point, but luckily, the third- centering on A.J Bowen's hypnotist, put my ass right back in my seat. Bowen was superb a few years ago in a Fantasia selection called THE SIGNAL, and he's great as the deceptively friendly psychopath, and what happens to him at the hands of his victim had the audience erupt in cheers.

While the third story was probably the most crowd-pleasing, I'm partial to the fourth, which, more than the others, is a moody character study, and very mumblecore in it's aesthetic (right down to the presence of Mumblecore director/actor Joe Swanberg in the lead). Of all the characters, Swanberg's is the one you come closest to sympathizing with, and I really could have watched a whole film devoted to this story, rather than the twenty minutes it's allowed here.

All in all, 2 out of 4 ain't bad, and the two shorts that I liked, I REALLY liked, so take from that what you will. I'd recommend seeing at least the last forty minutes of WHAT FUN WE WERE HAVING, and despite my problems with the first two films, it's obvious Adam Wingard is one to watch.

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