A bleakly humorous romantic character study, Quid Pro Quo is appealingly offbeat until its narrative takes a wayward detour into pat simplifications. The story, by first-time helmer Carlos Brooks, tackles subject matter tailor-made for indie eccentricity, as it concerns the weird relationship between wheelchair-bound public radio host Isaac Knot (Nick Stahl) and mysterious Fiona (Vera Farmiga), who introduces Isaac to—and then reveals herself to be a member of—a subculture of people who long to be paralyzed. Brooks doesn’t exploit these “wannabes” for cheap laughs but, instead, depicts their odd condition with bemused fascination, his modest and often tender direction positing the action less as a quirky freak show than as a mystery rooted in unusual anguish. At least during his film’s first half, he generates a surprising amount of intrigue simply via the character of Fiona, whom the magnificent Farmiga embodies as an alternately endearing and frightening kook. With glamorous Old Hollywood blond locks and a high heels-assisted statuesque figure that nicely clash with her paraplegic fantasies, Farmiga is enthralling, her unhinged expressions—and ability to ooze sexuality while revealing intimate, off-the-wall truths about herself—lending the proceedings a beguiling, erotically charged sense of unease. When Farmiga isn’t on screen, however, Quid Pro Quo goes limp, in large part because Isaac is more of a surprise-in-waiting than a real character. This unfortunate fact is obvious from the start, thanks to both Stahl’s deliberately opaque performance—which, aside from a few droll remarks about being handicapped, has a frustrating hollowness—and an introductory (and occasionally revisited) flashback that too clearly hints at Fiona’s motivations and the truth about the “magic” shoes that, later on, grant Isaac the ability to walk. Whereas Brooks’s protagonists develop the titular tit-for-tat rapport, that dynamic isn’t upheld by his film, which reciprocates early interest in Isaac and Fiona’s circumstances by wrapping things up with tame neatness.
- Magnolia Pictures
- 82 min
- Carlos Brooks
- Carlos Brooks
- Nick Stahl, Vera Farmiga, Aimee Mullins
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