“What a tangled web we weave.” If it wasn’t a full sentence, this idiom would be the perfect title for Director/Co-writer Ash Christian’s latest film, “Petunia“. Available on DVD on 9/3, this little indie sports some razor sharp dialogue and a superb cast that delivers some of the best performances I’ve seen in awhile. If you’ve ever considered your family to be insanely dysfunctional, Christian’s Petunia clan, with all of their eccentricities and sexual hang-ups, are sure to make you feel better about the ones you love (and maybe even the ones you don’t.) In the very least, you’ll feel better about your sex life…
Charlie Petunia (Tobias Segal) has a screwed up family. His parents are stuck in a loveless marriage and his older brother, Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas) seems to be headed down that same road with his new bride, Vivian (Thora Birch). Their other brother, Adrian (Jimmy Heck) is both an artist and a sex addict who can’t resist the urge to blurt out “I love you,” during even the most casual one night stand. Things get even more complex when Vivian, a woman who hardly seems suited for marriage, let alone motherhood, discovers she’s preggers… and she’s not sure which Petunia boy is the father. One thing’s for certain: it isn’t Charlie, who’s taken a vow of celibacy after seeing how crazy sex has made his family. However, this doesn’t stop him from falling for Vivian’s cousin George (Michael Urie), who happens to live in the apartment below. Against his better judgement, Charlie lets his guard down and the two begin a sexual relationship. The love affair starts to take its toll…on Robin (Brittany Snow), George’s wife, who’s anger over her husband’s homosexual affairs is so bottled up, she’s become an anorexic. See what I mean about that web? Will these people ever find happiness?
You probably wouldn’t care if the characters weren’t so great. This is definitely a testament to Christian and his Co-writer Theresa Bennett’s ability to crank out hilariously sardonic dialogue. For example, matriarch Felicia Petunia convinces Adrian that dating an unattractive…”even, plump” woman, will cure his sex addiction. When he brings a lady friend home, Felicia grills the poor girl over her decision to design clothing for full figured women and gives the backhanded compliment, “Ambition is good…without ambition, there would be no Special Olympics.” Cruel to be certain, but brought to life with spot-on, deadpan delivery by Christine Lahti. After all, what good is a script without talented actors? Christian is able to capture noteworthy performances from everyone in “Petunia”, from David Rasche’s shell of a man, Percy Petunia, to the perpetually perturbed Petunia, Vivian, played with piss and vinegar by Thora Birch. Not to mention Brittany Snow’s “Robin”, who is ever-teetering on the edge of mental collapse. But the standout of the show is Tobias Segal as Charlie Petunia. He’s quiet and eccentric, always trying to keep things in balance, yet hardly able to keep his own life in order – not unlike a more fragile version of Michael Bluth. The character and performance perfectly illustrate the quirky, awkward mood of the film, in addition to providing a center.
Wolfe Video released a disc that looks good for a DVD, although the colors seem a little muted and washed out. For as colorful as “Petunia“‘s characters are, the film could benefit from a more vibrant look. The audio is presented in 5.1 surround sound; the dialogue is clean and music really fills the channels when it’s present. This isn’t the kind of film that necessarily needed (or uses) a 5.1 mix, but it’s a nice novelty when you catch it in effect. In addition to the theatrical trailer, there’s a commentary track with Christian, Bennett and Producer Jordan Levine, as well as a radio interview with stars Birch, Lahti and Urie.
“Petunia” earns itself 3 out of 4 angels. It does run the risk of turning pretentious, but always manages to steer clear by injecting its comedic cynicism into anything that starts to get too deep or preachy. That’s not to say that beneath all of the irreverent humor, there isn’t some real heart. Christian shows us that love and sex don’t always go hand in hand, but happiness is a cake that calls for both ingredients.
Now go get a piece.