Not much seems to have changed in the world of urban heterosexuals since Hal Salwen’s 1995 techno-prophetic classic Denise Calls Up. We are still avoiding intimacy at all costs, using technology to prolong fantasies of contact without having to engage in actual human bonding. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who is 26, reminds us of that perennial zeitgeist—the pleasures derived from forever delaying the real—with Easier with Practice. A socially inept struggling writer, Davy (Brian Geraghty), goes on a road trip with his hedonistic brother, Sean (Kel O’Neil), to promote his collection of short stories. While Sean has no qualms about exploring other “pussies,” even though he has a girlfriend, Davy is more comfortable in the phone-sex relationship he develops with a stranger who calls his motel room to ask what he is wearing.
Easier with Practice has its share of indie cinema clichés: laundromats, bookstores, diners, and picturesque desert landscapes vying for some kind of undeniable artistic merit. But right when you think the film is just another Sundance-wannabe parade of Americana iconography sutured by hipster music, it surprises you with a mind-boggling layer of racial and sexual complexities thrown on your lap like a hot potato. This sudden flip toward the end that turns the predictable into the uncanny, and which I won’t spoil, is what makes this film an unexpectedly brave comment on the phobic ways Americans deal with alterity.
It’s true that Easier with Practice, which features some great actors, suffers from the bankrupt paradigms inherent to the genre it tries to inhabit. Its form is so sleek, its tracking shots so smooth, they stand in the way of a much uglier, rawer reality being depicted: White people can suffer too. This manufactured, apolitical misery—misery as aesthetics, my-car-broke-down-and-my-dog-ran-away misery—that indie cinema loves to fetishize is the very substance of much of the film.
Its silences can often be just as fabricated too. Unlike European film silence, unfazed by its possible awkwardness and length, these are silences akin to laugh tracks. They can be measured like ingredients. Yet the film makes its way out of this formulaic logic from which it stems, to find its politics elsewhere. The introduction of one element of strangeness, a kind of surreal unveiling, in this tableau of privileged melancholics is enough to turn certainty into chaos—and it’s delicious to watch it collapse. Easier with Practice knows that extracting authentic vulnerability from Puritan Caucasian bodies can be an impossible project. So it ultimately decides to let the silences do the talking. And they finally feel real.