I made a resolution not to bother with reviewing anthology films a few years back.
Basically, they’re a way of getting critics to review short films, which whatever their value in teaching filmmakers, helping them polish their craft and creating proof to agents and producers that they know what they’re doing with actors, crew and a camera, the audience for them is tiny. The audience for reviews of them consists of the filmmakers and their families (often the people who paid for the movie) — even tinier.
Considering how labor intensive they are for a critic — scores of names of actors, writers and directors to list and attach to each “short” — it’s much easier to use the four-letter word “pass” when they’re pitched.
Not that “The Seven Faces of Jane” is an anthology film, not like movies such as “Paris, J’taime” and “vhs.” It’s a tag team tale that the filmmakers describe as a filmed version of the Exquisite Corpse Game, usually done by having many hands draw on a sketch or group-effort painting.
Eight directors and eleven screenwriters would take one character — Jane, played by actress, writer and director Gillian Jacobs — and put her through a series of scenarios over the course of a day in which she drops her daughter off at camp. I like Gillian Jacobs (“Ibiza”). Let’s take a look.
Jacobs would write and direct the framing scenes that open and end it, and sequences by others would envision Jane driving her new hatchback around getting mixed up in mischief at a surreal coffee shop where her doppelganger works, getting “called in” by a long-dormant Svengali-like agent for an audition at a mausoleum and catching up with a former lover (Chido Nwokocha) as his Black friends and his Black Afro-funk ensemble and dance troupe play on a beach.
Joel McHale plays another almost-ex whom she bumps into, takes a hike with and has something like a tearful epiphany about paths not taken and high school reunions one might have been better off skipping.
Jane picks up an exotic hitchhiker (Emanuela Postacchini) in the desert on that oft-filmed lonely road outside of Joshua Tree. They dish on men as Jane gives off an “escaped” from a mental institution, possibly suicidal and behind the wheel vibe. Later she meets and tries to buck up a very unhappy Latina teen (Daniela Hernandez) who has stormed out of her quinceanera in this big, fancy dress which she hates and heels she can’t handle.
Look at the credits below and you can see some famous folks (Jacobs and Dr. Funnyman Ken Jeong) and some famous film surnames (Coppola, Cassavetes) that collaborated on this.
The segments of “Seven Faces” are competently shoehorned into this “corpse” of a narrative. But no, “Jane” doesn’t work as a feature. It’s the sort of indulgent bauble that might make the rounds of film festivals, where audiences will check out and appreciate short films and “experiments” or “games” like this.
Having a few famous names on board would help sell tickets, but again, only in a film festival.
Like too many films of this not-quite-genre, “Seven Faces” is both uneven and close to nonsensical. Like most of them that I’ve seen — mostly in film festivals — there are one or two stand-out segments strong enough to turn into a feature film.
Here, that’s the quinceanera segment. Jane turns about to be a Los Angeles native who spent a year studying abroad in Spain, who speaks Spanish and knows the 15th birthday coming out party tradition, knows a good Mexican food joint in the neighborhood where she stumbles into Rose, and is nothing but helpful and supportive of this unhappy girl having a very bad “special day.”
The hook? Rose lost her mother when she was young. She’s being raised by grandparents who are from Albuquerque, originally, who don’t necessarily connect to this culture either, but force it on her. Rose doesn’t even speak Spanish.
She “hates” the dress, which was her late mother’s. “I hate this neighborhood,” hates what her grandmother is forcing her to do, hates the Mexican food granny makes her cook.
That’s a script-flipping comedy pitch if I’ve ever heard one, the seed that could sprout into a full, funny and charming. No, I don’t know who wrote and/or directed it and have no interest digging any deeper into this to find out. Even the credits to this Frankenstein’s monster are tedious.
The rest of “The Seven Faces?” I liked the Afro-funk. And uh, I didn’t realize Ford was making Mustangs in hatchbacks again.
The folks involved wanted to play a game making a movie. Maybe next time sign up for “The 48 Hour Film Project” so that you’re not wasting a lot of people’s time on this experiment that failed. I’m not saying it’s a complete waste of time. I am saying it’s not worth one more second of mine.
Cast: Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Sybil Azur, Chido Nwokocha, Daniela Hernandez, Emanuela Postacchini and Joni Reiis.
Credits: Directed by Gillian Jacobs, Gia Coppola, Boma Iluma, Ryan Heffington, Xan Cassavetes, Julian Acosta, Ken Jeong and Alex Takacs, scripted by Julian Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Ben Del Vecchio, Ryan Heffington, Tran Ho, Boma Iluma, Nick Itwataki, Gillian Jacobs, Antonio Macia, Alex Takacs and Kaydee Volpi. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:32