Pointed comedy ‘Pretty Problems’ takes aim at a multitude of satirical targets |
The rich “are different from you or me”, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in a short story, to which Ernest Hemingway retorted in one of his own stories: “Yes, they have more money”.
But the 0.01% really does seem like an alien species in “Pretty Problems,” Kestrin Pantera’s tangy, funny culture shock about a wild weekend in California wine country. The film is now available for rental on VOD.
Fitzgerald is actually a good touchstone for “Pretty Problems,” since the storyline is a bit like “The Great Gatsby” in its look at beautiful, wealthy people who treat the rest of the world like toys. But a struggling middle-class couple find it fun to be the plaything and bask in the pampered, privileged world — at least for a while.
Jack and Lindsay (Michael Tennant and Britt Rentschler, who also co-wrote the screenplay) are a married couple from Los Angeles struggling to make ends meet. Jack is a disbarred lawyer who sells solar panels door-to-door, while Lindsay is an aspiring fashion designer who works in a high-end boutique, gritting her teeth as she is bossed around by a manager a decade younger than her.
Then a wealthy young woman, Cat (JJ Nolan) slips into the store, looking like she’s wearing a permanent Instagram filter in real life. Cat and Lindsay hit it off, and on a whim, Cat decides to buy one item from every item in the store and demands that the manager wrap each item by hand. Lindsay is fascinated by Cat and how her money provides the cushion for a carefree, consequence-free lifestyle.
Cat invites Lindsay and the more skeptical Jack over for a birthday weekend at their lavish home near Sonoma. “This is a murder house,” Jack warns upon seeing the imposing mansion. But Cat’s husband Richie Rich, Matt (Graham Outerbridge) and another couple (Charlotte Ubben, who also wrote the screenplay, and Alex Klein) seem disarmingly kind and shower them with gifts and attention. Who could refuse?
What follows is a weekend of debauchery and excess, as couples lounge around the pool, have servants at their beck and call, and put in lots and lots of drinking (and vaping) days. Lindsay and Jack struggle to keep up, buying $300 worth of bottles of wine they can’t afford. The taste for the good life only highlights how crummy their usual life is.
It’s the kind of movie where you’d expect things to turn into “Purge” type horror, or heartbreaking drama, as we learn about the dark underbelly of this wealthy couple’s sunny existence. But the hard satirical truth of “Pretty Problems” is that it really does sound like fun to be rich, as long as you don’t care too much about other people. As Cat says, giving the film its title, “Being rich doesn’t solve your problems. It just makes them prettier.
The script is very funny, highlighting the self-involvement of the ultra-rich without going too far into pure and simple parody — there is a lot of talk about buying “sustainable” or “biodynamic” things, as if their ostentatious consumption the world a better place. Perhaps because half the cast wrote the script, the banter is quick and natural. It’s a pleasure to hang out with these people for 90 minutes, even though most of them are terrible people destroying the planet.