Cheddar cheese has never sounded so exotic as Beth (Kate Lyn Sheil) hears it described over the phone by her new acquaintance Kendra (Eleanore Pienta) in “Kendra and Beth,” the latter presumably stuffing her face with shredded fromage as she coos “it’s normal cheese but in a different shape,” with Beth’s mind running wild with the possibilities when she’s only able to hear her voice. This is what excitement has become for Beth, a dutiful daughter and employee whose life has become a closed loop of work in Dean Peterson’s sly comedy, clocking in at the local sausage factory during business hours where she fulfills shipping orders and heading home at night where the labor is only more intense, tending to her ailing mother Ada (Catherine Curtin) and her older brother Robbie (Whitmer Thomas), an aspiring artist who appears to have taken the relatively recent loss of their father far harder than anyone else in the family.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Beth hasn’t suffered, she just hides her pain well and it was a casting coup on two fronts for Peterson to land Sheil as the lead, when the actress is gifted at gradually revealing her true feelings behind an often stoic facade and rarely asked to do comedies where she has deft instincts for deadpan humor. Those abilities serve her well opposite the unpredictable Pienta, who is eager to shake things up at any given moment as the easily bored Kendra, and though their characters couldn’t be more different in temperament, they are closer to one another than they might expect. In fact, the two meet since Kendra works as a waitress down the block from Talcott Sausage, though Beth’s mother’s insistence on lo mein has prevented a visit to the Thai restaurant, and while her better judgment may lead to some initial reticence after seeing Kendra’s volcanic temper as she screams at a date the morning after, Beth throws caution to the wind, desperate for any kind of connection when Kendra suggests heading to the local watering hole for Tequila Sunrises.
One might think that “Kendra and Beth” is actually set in the ‘90s when Robbie watches reruns of the Bob Saget era of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and Ada frequently refers to her Julia Roberts-exclusive collection of VHS tapes, but when Kendra expresses surprise that Beth still has Third Eye Blind CDs lying around the house, you realize only the family is frozen in time rather than the world around them and although Kendra seems like she could potentially pull Beth out, it becomes clear that only Beth is capable of doing that for herself. Peterson, a Minnesota native (who also served as cinematographer on the worthwhile “Glob Lessons”), has plenty of fun with both the idea of his characters being stuck in time and in the frigid Midwest — Beth’s parents’ mutual interest in cryogenics in death are a natural extension of their lives — and the film rather brilliantly turns on the idea that Kendra, who is eternally looking for a good time at the expense of any personal reflection, could become yet another responsibility for Beth, who already feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders taking care of her remaining family.
As much as having someone outside her immediate circle could bring comfort for Beth, there is equal chance for more pain when the idea of making more room for anyone else is already an uncomfortable demand and although Peterson clearly enjoys some of the cringeworthy moments he creates for Beth, observing her face them head on instead of pushing them off to the side as so many others in her life do becomes invigorating. It may be implied by its title that it takes two in “Kendra and Beth,” but when people constantly can be too wrapped up in their own issues to care for one another, the film exhibits tremendous sympathy towards how much it takes to start caring for oneself.