By Jessica Delfanti | February 15, 2012
Director: Steve Balderson
Writers: Frankie Krainz
Starring: Daniela Sea, Susan Taylor, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
It is not difficult to understand the origin of modern day television and film’s obsession with the 1960’s. With the country perched on the cusp of change, the era gives life to tales of sexual exploration and repression, altering gender roles, and political positioning. Steve Balderson’s The Casserole Club is a valiant but hokey attempt to participate in this trend with a comedic study of the carnal in the mid 60’s.
In the technicolor scenery of Palm Springs in 1969, The Casserole Club follows a group of aimless couples that occupy themselves with country club delights and indulge in parties that make college parties look tame. The pack of pastel wearing Stepford wives determine to spice up their lives by creating a casserole competition, but the inaugural dinner party quickly disintegrates into a giddy bacchanalia where the couples exchange sexual partners in a bubblegum suburban orgy.
The rest of the film occupies itself with the repercussions of this overindulgence. Balderson allows the camera to draw in close to the actors as they eat and engage in sexual acts, adding a claustrophobic feel behind the sunny pastels on screen. He casts the world in fuzzy, vintage colors and music video frames. Despite the specific impression that everyone making the film is trying very hard, tricks like these fail to give it any true weight, as the relationships feel shallow and inconsequential, and the actors struggle to match the manic tone that Balderson struggles so ineffectively to supply.
In the lead role, Sugar (Susan Taylor) is a squinting, stumbling housewife with a crush on her neighbor, Max (Micahel Maize), but the romance feels as deep and transparent as a gin martini. Taylor alternately screeches and coos, but never seems to hit the right notes for her character.
This lackluster performance is flanked with many others that are similarly prosaic. It must be noted that there are a few exceptions; namely, The L Word’s Daniela Sea as a stylish, pants-wearing alternative to the dimwitted wives portrayed by the other actresses. Her scenes with her onscreen husband, Leslie (Mark Booker), are poignant and engaging, and provide some of the most human moments of the film.
It is in these scenes, and others, that the film indicates its real intent toward a much darker message about indulgence. While it attempts to construct an absurdist existential look at carnal delight, it is undone in moments when it takes itself too seriously and in doing so, fails to say anything profound. The result is a film has all the aspects of a good night of drinking: while you’re in it, you’re fine, but you come out of it with nothing more than a bad taste in your mouth.
(Don’t forget to check out all of the other films we previewed for the SF IndieFest 2012.)