Diego Peretti and Julianne Nicholson in "Initials S.G."

Tribeca ’19 Review: A Lowlife Finally Gets His Close-Up in Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia’s High-Class Comedy “Initials S.G.”

There’s a smokin’ hot 23-year-old production assistant on the set of the latest movie Sergio (Diego Peretti) is an extra in “Initials S.G.”, or least so we hear since Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia never choose to show her or her seductive pink hair. When a friend calls him on the streets of Buenos Aires in the midst of being well on his way to jumping in the sack with an eager-to-please American named Julia (Julianne Nicholson) to inform him that she just arrived at the bar, Sergio quickly leaves the sure thing in favor of the fantasy in his mind, only to discover she’s left by the time he gets there. This kind of bad luck seems to follow Sergio wherever he goes, but that’s something you see, not him when his delusions about himself extend to once recording an album of Serge Gainsbourg covers and he’s found his fit as a background actor in mainstream productions, but a lead when it comes to porn thanks to his remarkable stamina, albeit no longer one in demand now that he’s in his fifties.

Although Sergio may be no genius, it’s quite possible that Attieh and Garcia make a strong argument they just might be with “Initials S.G.,” devising a shrewd and delightfully nasty comedy around a movie star in his own mind, but no else’s. From the moment Sergio can be seen floating face-down in the water as part of one of 16 films he’s been an extra in, you’re told by a silver-tongued narrator that “this is a story about a man who lives his life in the background, but he won’t be forgotten.” He’s memorable alright, but for all the wrong reasons, envious and resentful of anyone who seemingly has it better than him and once he breaks his nose in a bike accident, robbing him of the ability to be in front of a camera, his temper goes unchecked. Professionally, he is left only with the option of working in VR porn, in which no one will have to see his face, and personally, Julia, who is looking for a foreign fling before flying back to New York, offers something of a life raft, but neither is impervious to the unique ways Sergio is able to screw things up for himself while clinging onto a self-image that doesn’t line up with reality.

While you can’t exactly classify what “Initials S.G.” does as unreliable narration, Attieh and Garcia put a fascinating spin on that notion by constructing the film that Sergio would like to envision himself being in. However, even as a classy voiceover and the full attention of the camera may be a boost to his self-esteem, it can’t change the fact that what the audience sees is a self-serving sad sack and when the moment arrives that he can’t look away from what he’s wrought, you can’t either, though what he finds horrifying could also be construed as horrifyingly funny.

In spite of playing someone utterly repellent, Peretti brings an animal magnetism to the part that’s irresistible and is completely committed to the self-seriousness that Sergio carries himself with. Nicholson proves to be a most worthy foil, playing Julia with a lovely wistfulness that suggests a troubled past has led her to feeling as if she deserves less when Sergio feels entitled to more, and in keeping with the film’s wonderful subversive streak, love is never in the air, but Attieh and Garcia leave the door open for the two to find a connection in their shared desire to be completely different people than who they are. Set amidst an Argentinian bid to win the World Cup for the first time in a generation when the nation’s imagination may be consumed by soccer, “Initials S.G.” carves out another place to get your kicks.

“Initials S.G.” will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival on May 5th at 3:45 pm at the Village East Cinemas and 2:15 pm and 8:15 pm at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park.