Trick or Treat: Molly’s Theory of Relativity

With Halloween — possibly my favorite holiday — approaching, the time was ripe to add another film to my repertoire of seasonal staples. Molly’s Theory of Relativity (2013) seemed poised to fit the bill. Set on Halloween and focused on astronomer Molly, who’s lost her job and is possibly being visited by dead people, I was hoping that I’d get an instant camp classic if nothing else. Unfortunately, all I got at the end was a jumble of questions. I don’t know what I was supposed to get out of this movie. Is it about the economy? Is it about how family helps you? Is it about how family messes you up? Is it about overcoming personal melancholia? Am I supposed to be rooting for someone here? Am I actually supposed to like the main characters?

The action begins abruptly with three people engaged in a shrill argument. This is our first introduction to Molly (Sophia Takal, V/H/S), husband Zak (Lawrence Michael Levine, V/H/S/2), and his father Asher (Reed Birney, House of Cards, Gossip Girl). All three are instantly dislikeable. Zak is berating Asher for his lack of inheritance and poor treatment of Zak’s mother, while Asher defends his actions. From here, we flash to a jumpy monologue that is presumably supposed to introduce you to Molly, but is too fast and hard to follow. Next, we’re voyeurs in bed with a naked Molly and Zak (I will say this — writer/director Jeff Lipsky does give us equal opportunity nudity). Oh wait, now we’re on the subway with Asher? While theoretically the story is unfolding throughout Halloween day, the jerkiness of movement from scene to scene has you constantly questioning where you are in the timeline. Is it still even the same day? (I think so.)

As the day progresses, so expands the cast of characters. Trick-or-treater Ruby (Daisy Tahan, House of Cards, Nurse Jackie), her grandfather, the kid next door, and Molly’s mother, grandmother, and uncle all make an appearance. We know some of these characters may or may not be dead and/or figments of Molly’s imagination because the back of the DVD case tells us so, but for the most part it’s unclear who and what is real.

The day culminates in an elaborate feast during which nobody will shut up. Along the way, Molly has a job interview, food dishes randomly come, go, and change, Molly and Zak try anal sex, Asher gives Zak a bath, and nobody can quite figure out if Molly and Zak actually are or are not moving to Norway the next day. I think Molly is supposed to be a deep, quirky character we root for, but Takal just doesn’t quite get there with Molly. Zak is almost totally unlikeable, though that may have more to do with the script than Levine. Tahan has the most potential here, as I cared more about Ruby and what happened to her than anyone else in the film.

I wish I could tell you the grand moral or message here, but I’m stumped. I can appreciate what Lipsky was trying to do, but Mike Mills did it much better in Beginners (2010). As for me, I’ll stick with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown next Halloween.

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