Comforting Skin (Derek Franson, 2011)
The first half-hour or thereabouts of Comforting Skin is annoying in the extreme. It feels like it’s going to be just another mumblecore movie (not even a mumblegore movie because, you know, no violence). You know the drill. Annoying characters you can’t stand doing things they couldn’t afford in the real world without anything much really going on around them. And then Koffie (Good Luck Chuck‘s Victoria Bidewell), our main character, gets her tattoo. And everything changes.
At the beginning, Koffie, co-worker Synthia (MVP: Most Valuable Primate‘s Jane Sowerby), and best-friend-who-Koffie-kind-of-wants-to-date-but-not-really Nathan (Road to Nowhere‘s Tygh Runyan) are exactly those people you loathe in the movies. Koffie and Synthia drink at the restaurant they both hate working at (they keep working there because, presumably, they can drink free—they certainly can’t afford the amount of alcohol they consume on tips), have endless conversations about life, try to decide whether Nathan’s hot or not, discuss Synthia’s parade of sugar daddies, you get the idea. Those of you who give up on the movie and turn it off during this section are missing out, though. Koffie, feeling insecure, gets a tattoo because she thinks it’ll make her look sexy/mysterious/more attractive. And then it starts whispering to her.
NOTE: the rest of this review will reveal, and then talk about, the major spoiler for the film. While you may well have guessed it from the brief synopsis above, if you are sensitive to that sort of thing and plan on seeing the film (you should), stop reading now.
The final hour and change of Comforting Skin is as perfect a depiction of Koffie’s descent into delusional anxiety and depression as one could ask for. I speak from experience; I was in the exact place Koffie ends up in the climax of this film a little less than seven months ago. So when I tell you that Franson (who also wrote) knows his stuff, well, it’s fresh in my mind, delusions and all. The longer that section of the movie went, the more I could identify with her. While it doesn’t allow me to excuse how shallow and horrible a person Koffie is during the first half-hour of the movie, it makes it a little more understandable, and you can put the first bit down to debut-film jitters. Especially since the rest of the movie belies the first part by making it hard to believe this is a first film. Franson seems to go from not knowing where to put a camera, and certainly having no clue when to cut a scene or to stop with the repetition of a theme, to being the guy who gets pace, tension, and the small, subtle points of perfect movie characterization better than at least half the big-name filmmakers working in Hollywood today. If only any character in Interstellar had been half as complex and realistic as Koffie in the last hour of Comforting Skin, it would have been the great film it thought it was.
The dark side of getting it that right is, well, you get it that right. A lot of the last hour of this movie is going to be very awkward to sit through if you’re normal. (To be fair, it’s just as awkward if you get it, but at least you can vouch for its veracity.) And while I understand where Franson was going in one particular scene—without it being a major spoiler for one character, a lot of people had the same problem with Eric England going there in Contracted, though he knew what he was doing more—he may have been setting himself up for a lot of righteous anger from some people who will see that scene as marginalizing. Take it as you will; be warned you might be offended by it. Me, I was riveted to the screen the entire last hour of the film. Your mileage may vary. *** ½