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On Location: 'That's What She Said'

One of the many delights of attending an event like the Sarasota Film Festival is the shared sense of anticipation of seeing something that is completely new. In this day and age of over-exposure it is a welcome experience to go to a screening where very little is known of the film and have your mind completely free of bias. Without a Rotten Tomato meter, opening weekend box-office receipt figures, or Harvey Weinstein there to let you know in advance what to think, there is greater openness on the part of viewers.

This night we were all there to view one of the features, That’s What She Said, by writer-director Carrie Preston. Billed as “foul-mouthed” and sure to “tickle fans of the new, lewd comedies like Bridesmaids,” it follows two girlfriends, Bebe (Marcia DeBonis) and Dee Dee (Anne Heche) as they prepare the former for an important date. When Bebe, a heavy and conventionally unattractive woman, sits in her bathtub by candlelight holding a centerfold in one hand while trying to shave her pubic hair with the other, we get a clear sense what film we are in for. After a quick cut, as Dee Dee attempts to recover from a hang-over, we watch a disheveled Heche attempt an equally difficult multitasking feat, brushing her teeth while she shifts a burning cigarette from one side of her mouth to the other.

This back and forth between the lurid and the brazen continues with varying results. What keeps these scenes from serving only for shock value is the odd-couple pairing of DeBonis and Heche. Preston, an experienced actress in her own right, gives the two room to play, and it’s very clear they are having fun. While Bebe’s exterior is a shambles constantly needing tending (throughout the film she has an “irritation” in her crotch she attends to unsubtly) she is open-hearted to a fault. Dee Dee, on the other hand, is an easy beauty who is caustic and off-putting and does everything in her power to push people away.

The dynamic of watching the brash, doped-up Dee Dee navigate various locations about New York as Bebe tries to douse the flames is the film’s main appeal. Along the way Bebe takes on what is colloquially known as a “hot mess” in the form of Clementine (Alia Shawkat, of Arrested Development). Clementine has fallen apart because of a sexual encounter gone disastrously wrong. Unfortunately, Shawkat can’t quite hold her own with the more experienced Heche and DeBonis. While each scenario builds in implausibility and debauchery, the actresses seem increasingly fatigued to try and carry it all through to the climax (apologies). The revelation is DeBonis, who has worked consistently as a supporting actress through the years but centers the film with comic grace and genteel availability. While she makes everyone around her better, she also outshines them all.

Sarasota Film Festival (Shorts)

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