In Stereo is about a dude, David (Micah Hauptman), who’s on the verge of breaking out as a hip NYC photographer. Not that success would appear to change much in this case, as David’s life is already defined as an existence marked by trendy lofts, fresh homemade espresso, and models half his age whom he resents because they fail to properly value his inchoate angst. He’s one of those guys, exhaustingly common to American romantic dramas, who’re so concerned with people getting them that they don’t recognize the truth: that there doesn’t appear to be much to understand. He’s a Teflon man attempting to suffer in a fashion that corresponds with pop culture’s myth of the tormented artist—a good subject for a film, if any of these privileged New Yorker-centric dramedies were aware of that essential, hypocritically self-aggrandizing disconnect from reality. But In Stereo is just another fantasy of living only the good portions of the life of an artist. It suggests a rising filmmaker’s hopeful prognosis of what his life might look like if things shake out according to plan.
Some critics so routinely throw white-people movies under the bus that a clarification should be issued: There’s nothing wrong with making a film about a wealthy or might-as-well-be-rich white guy with no inherent problems. There’s not even anything wrong with such a film about such a guy who doesn’t know he’s without problems. The trouble springs from a filmmaker’s refusal to dive below stock situations, and from the impression that they’re obviously using “artist” occupations as an excuse to evade dramatizing actual work and struggle. David goes to a shrink and prattles on in a manner befitting someone pushing 40 who’s remained unmarried. He clearly thinks he’s too much of an iconoclast for marriage, which, in the tradition of most people real or fictional, is simply defensive posturing. Most of us, even artist-types, though we may be terrified of admitting it, are terribly conventional at our core—easily influenced, susceptible, like mushrooms, to the figurative seasoning of our given society. Not that you’ll find any such exploration in In Stereo. Director Mel Rodriguez III thinks he’s done enough to allow David his stereotypical, almost embarrassingly boring venting.
That said, the film starts to come to life just when you’ve written it off as the second coming of Eric Shaeffer’s cinema. Brenda (Beau Garrett), the beautiful actress (natch) whom David once dated and clearly still pines for (his present, requisitely superficial young beauty resembles her), is refreshingly as unappealing as he is. Refreshing because the woman is normally a font of unchallenging “wisdom” in these sorts of movies. Brenda’s callousness, though eventually sentimentalized as it must be, informs In Stereo with an unexpected comedic pulse: The film develops a sense of authorial perspective before your eyes, watching as these self-absorbed billiard balls bounce off one another.
And dark little vignettes emerge and drift off barely dramatized into the background, lending the narrative an impression of submerged danger. Characters who aren’t allowed to amount to much appear to be more compelling than the leads, particularly David’s childhood friend, Chris (Kieran Campion), an actual rich dude who hates himself, slipping into a thing with David’s girlfriend. In just a few scenes, Campion sketches in an eerie portrait of disconnection, his angular visage hauntingly reminiscent of Willem Dafoe’s. This actor occasionally allows one to forget that they’re watching yet another remarriage fable dressed up as a daydream of rogue adult anguish.