What happens when an archetypically dorky high school guidance counselor (The Mindy Project's Adam Pally) and a terminally unhip high school librarian (I Love You Man's Sarah Burns) decide to reinvent themselves? You can see for yourself in Slow Learners, a Sundance rom-com opening Friday at the Cedar Lee.
Max and Anne haven't had much luck on the dating front. In an opening montage, Max chokes on his salad while a date he met online catalogs, in comprehensive fashion, why she has no interest in him. (His face, his voice, his body.) Anne goes in for a routine checkup and is declared "clinically abstinent" by her physician. So when summer arrives, they hatch a plan: Revamp their wardrobes and hairstyles, hit the bars and start sleeping around.
And wouldn't you know it? Anne, who never had feelings for Max, starts to realize that maybe she does when she sees him as the object of all these women's desires. As the summer draws to its close, and friendships and emotional health have been cast aside in favor of happenin' self-images, Max and Anne must decide who they really are and whether they're meant to be friends or something more.
The extent to which their preposterous transformations are successful — Max's bandanas and eyeliner, for instance, or Anne's spring-breakish bar top up-for-whateverness — strains the otherwise compelling naturalism of the film. Even their over-the-top dorkiness is more believable than Max suddenly embracing bar fight culture and Anne, whose favorite pastime is guessing quotes from literature, becoming enraptured by trashy reality TV as she downs boxed wine and birthday-cake vodka.
But this is your typical fringe indie comedy, always characterized by creative teams as having been composed on a "shoestring budget." It's awash in sketch comedy stars whose faces, if not whose names, you'd probably recognize: SNL's Bobby Moynihan, The Office's Kate Flannery, My Boys' and Veep's Reid Scott. And it's a script which revels in the improvisational gifts of its performers. Both Adam Pally and Sarah Burns are extremely funny, and they do well in scripted scenarios with supporting characters and in their one-on-one riffs. In projects like these you tend to expect, and forgive, a handful of silly moments that miss the mark.
The plot is cut from basically the only available rom-com cloth, so don't expect any wild twists and turns. Expect a few really original sketches within a familiar narrative template, and a few gifted comedians having a blast on screen. — Sam Allard