Review: Sara Rue Seizes the Spotlight in “Dorfman in Love”

“Dorfman in Love” is a film best described as cast-contingent, a generally agreeable comedy that goes as far as its talented ensemble takes it. I’ll admit I was likely an easy mark for “Dorfman,” given my longtime affection for its lead Sara Rue, a criminally underused comic force since her days on “Popular” whose innocent appeal with an inner toughness is deployed for its full effect as the title character, a singleton asked to housesit for the photojournalist (Johann Urb) she has a crush on in downtown Los Angeles for a week and realizes she needs to start doing more favors for herself.

Underappreciated and overworked, Dorfman is introduced by way of separate conversations with her crabby father (Elliott Gould) who, after the death of her mother, would prefer to live with her brother, who happens to be her boss and promises to “sleep on” the idea of giving her a raise and continues to slumber. Both learn how indispensible she is once she leaves the nest for Pershing Square, yet that consciousness comes a bit slower for Dorfman, who uses the week away to gradually shed responsibilities and open herself up to new experiences. Those willing to help are familiar faces who it’s always nice to see more of, whether its “The Visitor”’s Haaz Sleiman as Dorfman’s new neighbor or “The Newsroom”’s Kelen Coleman as her assistant.

Although the film is filled with plenty of easy stereotypes, Wendy Kout’s script usually turns preconceptions around on the audience and while it can get uncomfortable waiting for some of the film’s punchlines, more often than not the jokes land. Director Brad Leong does a competent job of keeping up the pace and shoots the film at a near-constant titter, as if sharing the same imbalance as Dorfman as she begins to find herself in such activities as taking the Metro for the first time or picking out fruit at Grand Central Market. (Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who has since shot “Any Day Now” and “Fruitvale,” does wonders with pulling vivid colors out of natural environments.) “Dorfman” feels too prescribed to be considered a similar discovery, but it’s enjoyable enough, both as a snapshot of the city center which is becoming increasingly urbanized and of a woman coming into her own.

“Dorfman in Love” is now open in Los Angeles at the Music Hall 3, the NoHo 7, the Pasadena Playhouse 7, the Encino Town Center 5 and the Downtown Independent, in New York at the Cinema Village and in Chicago at the Facets Cinematheque. It is also available via DirecTV. A full list of screenings is here.

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