A brilliant conceit sets up a cutesy, just-clever-enough New York comedy in “God’s Time,” a tale of twelve steps and an addict with a grudge and a gun.
It’s a movie that brazenly riffs on why actor’s love movies about twelve step groups. It’s the “sharing,” the storytelling, when people talk about what they’re going through and what they’re thinking.
“I’m so-and-so, and I’m an addict/alcoholic,” they always begin.
“People ‘share’ to grow, to vent and to hear the sound of their own voice,” a “family” leader says. And boy is that obvious in the many times the Dominican spitfire Regina (Liza Carabel) launches into her tirades about taking in her ex and having him “evict me from my own apartment” and “”stealing” her effing dog in the process.
Everybody hears this “share” over and over, ad nauseum, from Regina — the “g” is a Spanish “h” — always finishing meetings that begin with “God grant me the serenity” with her fondest wish, that “Russell, that ex, get what’s coming to him “in God’s Time.”
Clean-cut actor-wannabe Luca (Dion Costelloe) and his clingy, manic pal Dev (Ben Groh) endure this broken record because hot mess that she is, Regina is more “hot” than mess, or so they hope. Dev is positively obsessed.
And that one time that Regina, who has mentioned poison and a pistol as her preferred means of giving her ex Russell his just deserts, leaves out “in God’s Time,” hyper Dev flies completely off the handle. He is SURE someone’s about to be hurt and that she’s about to make a mistake that will haunt the rest of her life.
If only they could track her down, talk her down, intervene, etc.
The movie becomes a not-remotely-frantic search for Regina, with Luca even more desperate to get Dev and himself to a callback for an acting job. It’s a day-long odyssey that hits on things you never do in 12-step programs (lie about someone’s relapse, risking sending them into a shame spiral), Regina’s many manipulations and many men and the lads’ friendship sorely tested as Dev is sure he’s reading this danger right, and will say anything that will help him save his crush from a killing and the cops.
Through it all, our on-camera narrator, Dev, lectures us on what we’ve seen and heard in a hundred other 12-step movies, leaning hard on the two things you simple MUST have in AA — “A higher power” to submit to, and “a sponsor.”
Fair enough and promising enough — a ticking-clock 12 step comedy taking us through hijinks and misadventures and the like.
Where “cutesy” kicks in on writer-director Daniel Antebi’s debut feature is in the form and the substance of Dev’s constant, fourth-wall-busting narration.
Dev takes us on his ecstatic bike rides through Manhattan set “to my own theme music,” lets us feel his fury at Luca’s fake-name for him every time they lie to get information about where Regina has gone — “Manuel.” Groh turns to the camera and grouses, grins or just winks as this sprint never quite gets up to speed.
But it’s often amusing, and that narration can serve comic purposes. At one moment, when he and Luca have disrupted a meeting that isn’t their usual AA group, their “family,” a brawl breaks out and Dev helps the filmmaker out by turning to the camera and blurting out “Don’t you WANT to see this?” just as the film cuts away. He’s sticking up for the viewer, but sparing the production a fight choreographer and the sight of an inexperienced cast who might not take to fight choreography.
As comedies go, it’s a scruffy little film with more promise than payoff. Most of the characters are merely sketched in, save for one.
Newcomer Caribel, all curls and beguiling smiles and tirades and manipulation, makes Regina a fascinating femme fatale. She is irresistible, knows it and yet cannot get past her own demons to make her feminine wiles pay off for her.
It’s not every rom-com that dares to let you hate the leading lady, dares you to find an excuse to like her and dares to make her an object of pity and concern by the time she’s smashed her way through this 12 step China shop.
“God’s Time” is a series of men lamenting Regina-with-an-“h.” Caribel reminds them, and us, that this really all about her and they and we might as well accept it.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Ben Groh, Dion Costelloe and Liza Caribel
Credits: Scripted and directed by Daniel Antebi. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:23