Nothing ever goes according to plan for the characters in Bryan Poyser’s films, if one is to go by his first two films as a solo director. His first, “Lovers of Hate” let chaos reign in a ski lodge when a man found out his ex was hooking up with his brother and thought the best way to win her back was by breaking in during a winter rendezvous, while his latest “The Bounceback” sees the unraveling of a quartet of close friends after the two couples who make up the group break up and the one who initiated it has second thoughts.
We first meet Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and Cathy (Ashley Bell) in more idyllic times, sharing pate, wine and kisses at a romantic restaurant in Austin before a series of snapshots over the opening credits informs us they’ve been pulled in different directions – she to New York to pursue medicine while he’s put down stakes in Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter. Neither are happy, nor are their friends Kara (Sara Paxton) and Jeff (Zach Cregger), who are living apart in Austin, but when Stan spies on Facebook Cathy is coming into visit Kara, a quick search on Kayak.com ensues to the detriment of his dwindling bank account, and he’s on a flight to the southwest.
After that, all bets are off during the course of two nights in the Capitol City, which is filmed with a great deal of swagger by Poyser and crew. Drenched in liquor, neon and the night sky, all the hotspots are hit by the pairs of pals divvied up by gender with Jeff saving all his energy for the AirSex World Championships at the Alamo Ritz while the ladies make their way to a country bar. The four play an elaborate game of chess across Austin in which Kara intends to help Stan reunite with Cathy, much to the dismay of the newly single Jeff.
Poyser and co-screenwriters David DeGrow Shotwell and Steven Waters always refrain from the obvious move, whether it’s the story which becomes gloriously entangled when all four are given other dating partner options than each other to the dialogue that’s sharp, witty and, when appropriate, unapologetically filthy. Paxton proves to be the biggest beneficiary of such irreverence, her blond hair streaked with purple and green and her language just as colorful and stealing every scene she’s in, though “The Whitest Kids U Know” member Cregger makes a formidible foil.
Amidst the craziness, it’s beautiful to imagine how the four friends achieved equilibrium as couples in the past before – Cregger and Paxton go all out as Jeff and Kara, who run hot, while the more reasonable and more likely-to-overthink-things Stan and Cathy run cold. “The Bounceback” doesn’t shortchange either end, and even gives the room for Addison Timlin and Justin Arnold to shine as the suitors who could make Stan and Cathy forget their exes once and for all.
What Poyser won’t allow to be forgotten is the all but lost art of the madcap relationship comedy, the adventure that’s as reckless as the great romances often are. In his films, love is worth fighting for and if it doesn’t work out, at least the fight was fun.
“The Bounceback” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play SXSW twice more on Friday, March 15th at 9:15 p.m. at the Stateside Theatre and Saturday, March 16th at 4 p.m. at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center.