Parker Posey, Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd, Mischa Barton
Billy Kent, Sarah Bird, Adam Wierzbianski
Priscilla Chase, beautiful and successful, appears to have it all...a perfect job, a beautiful home and an attractive husband.
The only problem is sex.
Well, okay, that's a bit deceiving. Sex isn't REALLY a problem for Priscilla. She's perfectly satisfied, she proclaims to her husband Jack, despite the fact that she's gone through 10 years of marriage without having an orgasm.
Are you cringing? Thinking to yourself "Oh my god, not another lame sex comedy."
"The OH in Ohio" is a surprisingly witty, fresh and tender comedy starring Parker Posey and Paul Rudd as a couple potentially torn apart by, well, their inability to come together.
Posey, long an indie fave and a vastly underrated actress, is a revelation as Priscilla. Quite easily, Priscilla could have been turned into a caricature in less capable hands. Posey, however, presents a woman who is professional, strong, capable, tender, vulnerable, funny, sweet and constantly believable. In a performance deserving of Posey's second Independent Spirit nomination (her first was as Best Lead Actress in "Personal Velocity"), Posey reveals a side to her acting repertoire previously unseen, and her ability to combine a sweet, comic vulnerability with her well known gift for quirky comedy provides a depth to Priscilla that brings the character hilariously to life without resorting to histrionics.
Likewise, as Jack, Rudd manages to balance a character whose choices may be more difficult for an audience to swallow. Jack, a burned out high school biology teacher, begins a relationship with an 18-year-old student (Mischa Barton). The relationship, while obviously controversial given the student/teacher relationship, is played out more from the angle of two mature individuals making a decision that could be right or could just as well be wrong. Somewhat reminiscent of Spike Lee's treatment of the subject matter in "25th Hour," the relationship here feels deeper, more authentic, more honest and, ultimately, more misguided than immoral. Rudd successfully wades through the emotional ambiguity of his character by underplaying Jack without the potential emotional peaks and valleys so readily available in the situations he faces. He is victim and victor, parent and child all wrapped up in one.
"The OH in Ohio" is blessed with a rich authenticity down to the most minute role. As Kristen, the aforementioned student of Jack's affection, Mischa Barton brings to mind Anna Paquin's student of "25th Hour." As seems to be the tone for the film, Barton underplays the character and avoids the obvious pitfalls of appearing seductive, manipulative, victimized and/or careless. Instead, Kristen is simply deeply, deeply human. Her performance may, in fact, make you uncomfortable with just how comfortable you are watching it.
While Jack falls for the young, attractive high school student, Priscilla ends up orgasmic over "Wayne, the Pool Man," beautifully played by Danny DeVito. An odd couple at best, their relationship is one of sweetness, tenderness, understanding and innocence. Priscilla and Wayne do not "look" physically compatible, but they "feel" compatible. DeVito, in a relatively brief role, practically transcends the screen. This type of relationship, so often played for laughs, certainly offers natural humor. Yet, the humor is never at the expense of the characters. Instead, it is the natural humor that arises out of that ever so uncertain dance we call a relationship. Simple scenes of Priscilla and Wayne hugging each other, holding each other, looking at each other and, at times, playing with each other are powerful because we are watching the power of nonverbal acting between Posey and DeVito.
Liza Minnelli has only a single scene as a sex guru, however, she makes the most her scene. Likewise, an uncredited Heather Graham shows up as an adult store clerk whose two brief scenes play perfectly largely due to Graham's innocent "girl next door" looks. As Priscilla's best friend, Miranda Bailey gets quite a bit out of what is essentially a one-note character.
"The OH in Ohio" is directed by Billy Kent based upon a script by first-time screenwriter Adam Wierzbianski. While the film, at times, seems to ricochet too quickly between scenes of great, almost maudlin sentimentality and dark, shallow humor, "The OH in Ohio" frequently works largely due to the cohesive chemistry between the characters. Instead of going for easy laughs, Kent wisely allows the inevitable humor of relationships to dominate the action. The cinematography is simple, yet fresh and the film's production design complements the action nicely.
"The OH in Ohio" is the exception. Defying the stereotypes often present in both romantic and sexy comedies, "The OH in Ohio" is an intelligent, insightful, funny and fresh comedy about sex, love and all the objects that come between us.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic