Dorfman In Love has its share of obnoxious indie rom-com songs tying its scenes together, as well as the forced dialogue we’ve come to expect from non-mainstream films unnervingly bent on copying the narrative conventions of mainstream films. Its authenticity, however, comes from the way it uses the real Los Angeles (not the one of the movies) as a character, squeezing humor out of particularities about the city that have somehow not yet become cinematic clichés. In this L.A. of downtown beggars and cat-sitting twentysomethings, Deb Dofman (Sara Rue) is a pep talk-giving Jewish accountant from the Valley (“Eeew,” one of the many model characters in the film says) who’s stuck taking care of her father after her mother dies. She’s quirky and not conventionally attractive, the kind of girl for whom femininity and spontaneity aren’t mutually exclusive: She makes funny faces when brushing her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, wears baggie clothes and no makeup, and has no qualms about confessing her love for her co-worker, Jay (Johann Urb), to a plant.
When Jay has to go out of the country for work, Deb volunteers to cat-sit for him in his newly purchased and extremely messy downtown loft. While this is her chance to get close to her idealized, and thus inaccessible, love object, she becomes increasingly smitten with Jay’s sweet-talking hot neighbor, Cookie (Haaz Sleiman). Whereas with Jay the attraction was based on impossibility of connection (and Jay’s impossibly beautiful Scandinavian face), Cookie triggers the possibility for an organic, if not wonderfully maladroit, relationship—one that can certainly not be achieved without the always cheesy yet inexplicably exciting makeover. The film at least spares us from the montage of the ugly-duckling character trying on several outfits and hats, cutting straight to the newly red-haired, no-nonsense Deb, who can, now that she has hot new bangs and a tight-fitting wardrobe, articulate her lack of satisfaction with work and risk replacing one impossibly gorgeous man for another.
Dorfman In Love’s moral lesson is too contradictory to be taken seriously. The problems with its substance (a young woman finds her inner strength by looking hotter and giving up a blond model for a Lebanese one) echo the problems with its aesthetics (quirky ethos attempted through extremely non-quirky means). Yet there’s something left, and underexplored, to love about how the film peppers its conventional storyline with inside jokes about Los Angeles that are so good, and actually funny, precisely because it may take an Angelino to get them.