A laugh-out-loud comedy about rich people problems

(L to R) Britt Rentschler, Charlotte Ubben, and J.J. Nolan in PRETTY PROBLEMS.

One of the happiest festival surprises this SXSW was the comedy Pretty Problems. With a screenplay verging on screwball, the film pokes fun at ridiculous wealth from the viewpoint of a middle class couple invited to a birthday weekend in wine country. Lindsay (Britt Rentschler, who also co-wrote the story) is married to Jack (Michael Tennant, who wrote the screenplay), and they are in a rut. Limited by his current probation, he sells solar panels door to door while she works in a chi-chi resale boutique.

One day a rich woman named Cat (Texan actress J.J. Nolan) flies into Lindsay’s shop and takes her under her wing. Lindsay convinces Jack to take a weekend off for what they expect will be a relaxing time in wine country. The next few days are anything but relaxing. Throw in ditsy younger blonde Carrie (Charlotte Ubben, another story co-writer), tater tot heir Kerry (Alex Klein, Lodge 49), Cat’s investor husband Matt (Graham Outerbridge), a butler (Clayton Froning) who Lindsay had a fling with in high school, and a mysterious invisible event planner named Milton, and you have the makings for a zany house party.

Michael Tennant and Graham Outerbridge in PRETTY PROBLEMS.

As Lindsay gets pulled further into Cat’s charming orbit, Jack remains skeptical of the affluent woman’s geniality. Tennant is a standout here as Jack, who gets some of the funniest lines in the film. But the cast as a whole shares a silly chemistry. Nolan’s Cat is constantly vaping; her somewhat lackadaisical nature bounces off that of the more centered Matt, who addresses his luck and privilege in a conversation with Jack. Rentschler plays Lindsay as a woman easily taken in by the visions of wealth, such that she starts to believe she can afford a case of costly wine.

Pretty Problems has sharp, witty writing that hits the target more often than not, like a Holofcener film with fewer moments of cringe. A scene with a kooky spiritual leader (Vanessa Chester) spouting ‘90s pop song lyrics as instructions for self care remains distinctly memorable for how much it made me giggle. The direction by Kestrin Pantera keeps the film at a steady pace with no slowdowns.

Although a low budget film, the set design in Pretty Problems is on point, with the house filled with artwork and sculptures that a nouveau riche couple would believably own. The overall feel of cautious welcome in the home at the start turns into something more sinister by the end. Films poking fun at preposterous wealth never get old, and Pretty Problems is a wacky addition to the canon.

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