EXCESS FLESH Review | SXSW 2015

     March 17, 2015

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If you’re going to make a movie that’s 103 minutes of grotesque eating rituals and maniacal behavior, you’ve got to leave your viewers with something meaningful to think about after, and it certainly shouldn’t be, “Isn’t it incredible that those actresses put themselves through that to make a movie?”

Bethany Orr leads Excess Flesh as Jill. She’s been in LA for nine months, but she still doesn’t have a job, she’s suffering from an especially nasty eating disorder and also never comes out of the apartment. Her roommate Jennifer (Mary Loveless), however, has a budding career in the fashion industry, a whole bunch of friends, can get any guy she wants and can also eat a whole bag of chips without gaining a pound or feeling the need to beat herself up over it. Jennifer says she’ll help Jill get her life back on track, but she’s too preoccupied rubbing all the great things that she has that Jill wants in her face to ever sit down and talk about it. Now Jill’s had enough. If Jennifer won’t support her, Jill will ruin her.

Excess Flesh gets off to a fairly solid start. Jennifer’s your classic b*tch and Jill’s the typical awkward girl who’s having a tough time coming out of her shell. They’re so different that it’s only natural to wonder, how’d they wind up living together? What’s life like for them? Turns out, their whole existence basically comes down to one key thing, food, and the predicament is fascinating. It’s actually easy to connect because who doesn’t have to tap into a little self-control when eating macaroni and cheese or sweets? But the thing is, it’s not that simple for Jill.

She’s got these outrageous eating habits, rituals and obsessions that include serious binge-eating, chaining her fridge shut and giving herself a nasty whack in the head anytime she takes a bite she shouldn’t have. It’s a lot to digest (no pun intended), but it’s hard not to feel for someone who’s struggling like this, particularly while watching her down a sickening amount of macaroni and cheese and beating herself up over every bite for a full seven minutes. But, as heartless as it sounds, patience wears thins, especially when Jill’s situation goes nowhere.

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Image via SXSW

Excess Flesh isn’t a pleasant watch. Whether Jill’s shoveling Pop-Tarts down her throat or slow-motion chewing something else, it’s awkward and upsetting. That could and should have worked to the film’s benefit, but director and co-writer Patrick Kennelly shoots himself in the foot by revealing too much too soon. The whole movie essentially rides on a single reveal, but Kennelly is so busy dishing out wink after wink in the first act that you know exactly what’s coming roughly 10 minutes in, if not sooner.

The only way the film could have gotten away with letting the twist slip too soon is if Excess Flesh had a satisfying payoff, but it doesn’t have anything unique or important to say about Jill’s condition. Orr and Loveless deserve some serious credit for committing to the roles and putting themselves in some insanely vulnerable positions, but when it all amounts to nothing in the context of the story, their performances are reduced to shock value and little more.

And the same goes for a good deal of Kennelly’s quality work, too. Regardless of the aforementioned flaws, Excess Flesh is still a well-shot, well-paced film. There’s loads of striking visual choices – particularly the way Kennelly covers that epic seven-minute mac and cheese scene – he gets bold performances out of his lead actresses and, oddly enough, he does create a need to know what happens in the end.

Whether you figure out what Excess Flesh is all about early on or not, you’re going to want to know how Jill’s story wraps up. The problem is, where she ends up is rather unsatisfying and also reveals some serious script flaws. It’s tough to discuss without completely spoiling the film, but, simply put, I didn’t entirely get it. When you consider the twist and think back to what went down in the film, the whole experience deflates because what Jill wants and how she goes about trying to get it just doesn’t make much sense.

Grade: C+

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