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What does it take to make a good, honest comedy driven by a cast completely comprised by women? And I’m not talking about movies like Sex and the City — which was probably better than I will ever admit — or romantic comedies that have strong female characters, such as When Harry Met Sally. I’m talking about a genuinely honest, even though it’s at times a bit campy, dramedy driven by an all-female cast. A film that doesn’t paint its female characters into a series of specific clichés, but makes them rich, fleshed out (pun intended) women who really jump off the screen. As far as I’m concerned, very few have actually figured out how to do it, especially in recent history.

And it was pretty evident that writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez was a bit nervous about his own ability to do it as well. During his introduction of his film Women in Trouble, Gutierrez went as far as to jokingly say that if certain scenes included some obviously bad acting and it was funny, that is how it was meant to be. A safe guard, just in case his brand of humor in this film — which is very different from the stuff he’s written before in Snakes on a Plane, Gothika, etc. — didn’t quite pan out. And don’t tell him I said this or anything, but it all worked perfectly, igniting some roaring laughter from the crowd at the Paramount theater and solidifying Women in Trouble as one of the first films I’ve seen in a long time to actually treat its female characters seriously, even when they are caught in some silly situations.

The film essentially tells the story of ten seemingly desperate women, all with their own unique sets of problems, many of whom collide into each other on their journey through one incredibly odd day. There is a world famous porn star named Electra Luxx (Carla Gugino), who has just found out that she is pregnant with the child of a wild British drummer — brought to life by an awesome performance from Josh Brolin. And just as she is finding out this news, her future baby daddy is attempting to woo a sexy flight attendant (Marley Shelton) as he returns from what sounds like a busted tour with his band. But before Electra can get in touch with him, she finds herself trapped in an elevator with Doris (Connie Britton), a semi-neurotic women who is trapped by her own dark past that involves her clever, spry niece Charlotte, played by Gutierrez’s daughter Isabella. These gals seem to comprise the core of the story, but around them are several very interesting and memorable characters, including a pair of star-crossed ladies of the night, played by the hilarious Adrianne Palicki and the ever-gorgeous Emmanuelle Chriqui. There is also Maxine, played by Sarah Clarke, a therapist who connects many of the characters together. She’s just discovered that her husband Travis (Simon Baker) has been cheating on her with Addy (Caitlin Keats), the sister of the aforementioned Doris.

It gets a little complicated in explanation, but trust me when I say that all the pieces fit perfectly when arranged on screen. It is truly amazing to discover that this film was shot in 10 days with actors coming and going on an almost volunteer basis. It gives not-so-new meaning to doing things on the fly. Essentially, it is a bunch of talented Hollywood friends getting together and making a movie just because they can, and the end result is a very funny film that gets to dramatic depths that you don’t expect. It rests, as its director would tell you, on the shoulders of these women. And while I think that he’s not taking enough credit for his great creative vision for the project, I would tend to agree that a few of these women really shine. Most notable is Adrianen Palicki, who plays a ditzy porn star who is having trouble with some of her girl-girl scenes. You see, she vomits every time she gets in close contact with another woman’s woo-woo. And at the core of her issue, as she explains to a super-cute Canadian masseuse played by Cameron Richardson later in the movie, is an embarrassing childhood story. It’s one of those stories, and topics, that would not work at all if it weren’t handled correctly, would come off as completely ridiculous. But Palicki pulls it off perfectly with a healthy mix of sweetness and subtlety.

The emotional weight of the film seems to rest on the shoulders of Carla Gugino, whose character Electra Luxx will be part of a trilogy, and Connie Britton. Their scenes together deal with some of the film’s very serious topics — motherhood, love, dark pasts and rubber vaginas to name a few. They have some very emotional moments in the film, many of which really add some beautiful layers to the film, but they also have a ten minute conversation about the popularity of the Electra Luxx designer vagina, in their underwear. I am convinced that there is something for everyone in this movie.

I would also be missing big if I didn’t mention the precocious, darling performance of Isabella Gutierrez. She’s in this movie for more than just a “take your daughter to work day” element, as she proves quickly that she’s got some chops. As Charlotte, she is a darker, smarter character than anything we’ve seen from a teenage actress in a long time. Think about Abagail Breslin’s character in Little Miss Sunshine, then add a few years, mix in some sharp wit and add a weird Wiccan element and you’ve got Charlotte pegged.

Overall this feels like one of those special little films that is the start of something really great. Gutierrez has already shot his second film in the series, Electra Luxx, with plans for the third film currently in the works. And if the next two are anything like this one, rich with laughs and tears and dimensions previously not thought possible with a completely female cast (not because it couldn’t be done, but because it just hasn’t been done), then I am totally in for the long haul. In fact, it wouldn’t be any trouble to get me to revisit the story of these fine women any time soon. And I mean that in the least sexist way — although, I must disclose the Carla Gugino, Adrianne Palicki and Emmanuelle Chriqui in their underwear will always do the trick. What can I say? I’m a simple man.

Grade: A

For more of the best SXSW Film 2009 coverage on the web, keep it locked to our official SXSW ’09 homepage.


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