Unlovable (United States, 2018)

November 02, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Unlovable Poster

Unlovable is a story of addiction and recovery. That’s not new territory for a motion picture – some of the most affecting movies in history have touched on the subject (including the latest iteration of A Star Is Born, currently deemed a shoo-in for a 2019 Best Picture Oscar nomination). What’s unique about director Suzi Yoonessi’s film, however, is the nature of the affliction. The main character’s problem isn’t drugs. It’s not alcohol. It’s not gambling. Instead, it’s a disorder referred to as “sex and romance addiction.” Joy (Charlene deGuzman) so strongly craves physical intimacy and the illusion of love that she eventually loses her boyfriend, her home, and her job as a result.

One of the problems with Unlovable is the uneven manner in which the tone shifts. The movie starts deep in the valley of black comedy as the hapless Joy narrates her own failed suicide. By the time the final credits roll, however, the film has slipped into melodramatic autopilot. In fact, once Joy moves into a halfway house (of sorts) owned by her addiction recovery sponsor, Maddie (Melissa Leo), one could plot out the rest of the narrative without missing a beat. Only the performances of Charlene deGuzman and co-star John Hawkes (forever remembered for his role as the disabled man in The Sessions) keep the viewer engaged as the screenplay touches all the expected bases.

The first half-hour, as Unlovable introduces Joy and allows us to observe her downward spiral, is in many ways the best the movie has to offer. It’s at times raw but Joy’s self-knowing, self-deprecating voiceover makes it easy to get a sense of what’s going on inside the mind of this seemingly self-destructive woman. She’s already attending an AA-type group when the straw breaks the camel’s back. After being dumped by her boyfriend, Ben (Paul James), Joy goes out and gets drunk. Subsequent events are a blur but she wakes up surrounded by unconscious naked men (she too is unclothed) and realizes she was the main attraction at an X-rated bachelor party. This event spurs her to get serious about stopping the cycle.

Her sponsor offers her a guest cottage on her senile grandmother’s property. There, Joy can live in relative seclusion and work on following the rules: minimal social media interaction, avoiding triggers, and no masturbation. Bored out of her mind, she violates at least one of these in the first day. Then she meets Jim (Hawkes), Maddie’s antisocial brother, and a shared bond for making music causes them to gravitate toward one another. This friendship provides Joy with the strength to get over the hump…until she again crashes and burns.

Although the concept of “sex and romance addiction” is fascinating, especially noting how it can be fueled in today’s on-line world, Yoonessi doesn’t offer more than a cursory window into the affliction. Joy’s problem is strangely generic. She could just as easily be an alcoholic or an opiate user with minimal changes to the script. That, as much as the shift in tone, is what disappoints about Unlovable. At least the movie breezes along quickly (it clocks in at under 90 minutes), the acting is solid, and the characters (clichés aside) are nicely realized. I just wish Unlovable had developed its own unique voice and approach rather than seeming too much like dozens of other forgettable addiction-themed motion pictures.

Unlovable (United States, 2018)

Director: Suzi Yoonessi
Cast: Charlene deGuzman, John Hawkes, Melissa Leo, Paul James
Screenplay: Charlene deGuzman, Sarah Adina Smith, Mark Duplass
Cinematography: Moira Morel
Music: Christopher French
U.S. Distributor: Orion Classics
Run Time: 1:20
U.S. Release Date: 2018-11-02
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1