By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Co-writer and director Michael Cross’ feature debut, Second Nature (2016), is fresh, breezy and uproarious. It is also a flat-out brilliant examination of gender roles. The eighty-minute comedy, a Cross Films and Mirror Image LTD. production, also benefits from a politically influenced, but never overdone, plot. It is one that is as inventive as it is timely.
Such an inherently enjoyable story revolves around our likeable heroine, Amanda Maxwell (in a wonderful and lively enactment from Collette Wolfe). Early on, she finds a mirror in her grandmother’s once discarded belongings. After Amanda takes the looking-glass into her hands, her town of Louisburg transforms into Ellensburg (a sly reference to the same-named city in Washington where the arrangement was recorded). Taking cues from the transitions from the masculine to the feminine found in the titles of these areas, the archetypical actions and attitudes of the men and women in Amanda’s home town switch. These alterations become increasingly interesting when Amanda decides to run against the philandering Bret Johnson (in a stellar turn from Sam Huntington) for mayor.
The efficiently paced screenplay from Cross, J.C. Ford and Edi Zanidache, utilizes this reversal to masterful effect. The jokes the trio pulls from the engaging situation at hand are constantly witty. They are also endlessly successful. Best of all, even on the rare occasion a gag misfires it doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of the humor. The variety of laughs at hand operate just as sharply at punctuating the underlying message of this potent tour de force. This is a courtesy of the scripters’ knack for offbeat dialogue. These bits further establish the authors’ capacity to set-up unique, often absurd, spins on commonplace situations.
Simultaneously, Cross’ guidance of the project is as vibrant as the suitably developed characters who populate the tale. Given the heft of the themes, Cross’ generally light-hearted tone and approach makes for a bold choice. But, such a decision pays off tremendously well. Such an atmosphere makes the balance between luminous and cerebral entertainment Cross juggles throughout the runtime evermore effortless.
Also assisting matters is Michael Boydstun’s cheery, handsome cinematography. Mateo Messina and The Filthy Hypocrites offer stellar, largely upbeat and emotive music. Such masterfully punctuates the deliberately conventional beats of the narrative. Additionally, the charmingly retro effects, sound and make-up work are just as triumphant. The previously undeclared performances are just as spectacular. For example, Carolyn Cox is terrific as Estelle Otto. The same can be said of Carollani Sandberg as Nat Jones. Correspondingly, Riley Shanahan is exceptional as Dex Gamble.
Though the finale and its expected resolutions feel a bit rushed, this does little to dilute the infectious likability, intelligence and depth of the exercise. The guffaws come almost as soon as the picture commences. They don’t let up until after the smirk-inducing concluding credits have completed their run. Relatedly, the exertion towers from a cast and crew standpoint. Yet, unlike many similar genre entries in recent memory, there is genuine thought, heart and substance to Cross’ excursion. The result of these high-functioning attributes is undoubtedly one of the best comedies of the year.
(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.
Second Nature will be in select theaters starting September 8th, 2017. It will be available on Blu-Ray, DVD and some digital platforms, including Amazon, September 19th.