The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Hard Sell

Hard Sell plays as though aliens from space watched a lot of coming-of-age movies, then tried to make their own based on what they saw. It's a weird mashup of cliches that don't go together and appear to have been assembled by someone with no understanding of actual human behavior or motivation. Watching the film is an exercise in frustration, because it keeps trying to convince you of its own sincerity, despite the fact that anyone with even a modicum of life experience will be able to see how utterly shallow it all is.

Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) plays Bo, a former stripper who escapes from a mental institution. (Actually, she just walks out. For unknown reasons, this particular facility doesn't lock its doors.) Bo makes her way to a homeless shelter and, for no discernible reason, befriends an awkward teen boy named Hardy Buchanan (Skyler Gisondo), who takes her home to meet his mentally ill mother (Kristen Chenoweth). Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Both Bo and Hardy need money, so he comes up with an idea: she will flash her breasts to his peers for money. She agrees to this plan. Why? Again, your guess is as good as mine. Way too suddenly to be credible, shy Hardy turns into a smooth pimp, peddling her to anyone who will pay him. Then Bo stops flashing and starts offering advice to the rich kids at the local country club. The film promptly drops this idea not long after introducing it, moving on instead to a family member who comes looking for her, as well as Hardy's sudden realization that he isn't equipped to handle all the problems going on in his life.

Writer/director Sean Nalaboff doesn't appear to have any idea what kind of film he is making. On one hand, Hard Sell is a teen sex comedy about a hot girl and the dweeb who exploits her sexuality for money. On the other, it deals with serious mental health issues and family dysfunction. Why Nalaboff thought those two things would go well together is impossible to say. The tone veers dramatically from scene to scene. One minute, it's trying to mine a laugh from Hardy being grilled by the school nurse about his diarrhea in front of a comely classmate, and the next he's finding out that his dog has cancer and is going to die. The whole movie is like that, to the point that it becomes maddening.

The comedy parts aren't funny. There's no real joke to Bo flashing herself, other than that teen boys love boobs. Not exactly the sharpest of punchlines. The dramatic scenes are even worse. Hard Sell thinks that merely introducing serious topics is enough to create meaning or evoke an emotional response from the audience. Nalaboff introduces many such topics. What he doesn't do is develop them. To cite just one example, there's a scene near the end where Hardy confronts the stuffy prep school officials who are trying to kick him out because of his scheme. The kid tells them off in what is clearly intended to be an Al-Pacino-at-the-end-of-Scent-of-a-Woman moment, but because the stakes of him getting the boot have never been credibly established, the scene falls flat on its face. The disjointed tone ensures that none of the plot strands are credible, while additionally serving to make the characters' motivations feel arbitrary.

Skyler Gisondo (Vacation) is a likable young actor, capable of doing both comedy and drama. He's as good as can be here, given the weak material. Katrina Bowden is often cast as a sexpot (see Nurse 3D). The actress must have envisioned this as a chance to show some dramatic range, but the film focuses more on Bo's hotness than on her mental health issues, thus rendering her efforts moot. As for Kristen Chenoweth, it appears that she was given the direction to overact as wildly as possible at every moment. Or maybe it's just the fact that her character's issues are never once formally identified, thereby preventing us from understanding why her behavior is always so weird.

Hard Sell pulls bits and pieces from many other coming-of-age pictures, from Risky Business to Pretty in Pink to My Dog Skip. A person would be better off rewatching any of those titles again. This movie is like a small child banging on a piano. He thinks he's playing a song, but he's really just making a lot of discordant noise.

( out of four)

Hard Sell is unrated, but contains language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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