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Andover
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by Jay Seaver

"This cloning movie is both something of an original and not quite right."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: "Andover" is just good enough that and audience may or may not be able to overlook how thoroughly misguided it is at a fairly fundamental level, to the point where it's actually kind of impressive how precisely writer/director Scott Perlman finds the no-man's-land between a deliberately heightened dark comedy and hiding from the cruelty of the premise. It's hard to recommend despite getting frequent laughs, and probably needs to hit a viewer just right to work at all.

That's not entirely far off from the situation Professor Adam Slope (Jonathan Silverman) finds himself in after his wife Dawn (Jennifer Finnigan) burns to death in her glass-blowing studio and he decides to use his advanced cloning research to bring her back, especially once student Emma Grady (Scout Taylor-Compton) suggests a way around the issue of it taking a couple years for a clone to grow to adulthood. The trouble with that is, even if it only takes Adam three months to raise Dawn #2 to adulthood, she feels more like his daughter than his girlfriend. Which means, starting with Dawn #3, he's got to find various ways around the whole nature-versus-nurture thing.

Perlman doesn't exactly hide from the obvious problem of how, if he wants to explore all the ways that this plan can screw up, he's going to need a lot of dead or abandoned Dawns; it's right in the opening flash-forward, one of the few times that using that trick to get the viewer's head in a certain spot is a net benefit. That's not necessarily even a bad thing; casually bumping off characters in the service of satire or a dark-themed comedy can be a lot of fun if you commit to that tone. And there's an argument to be made that Perlman does, that all the times a Dawn is thrown out as a failed experiment is just expressing the movie's themes in a metaphorical, larger-than-life way (I suspect this movie will play better in France, where that sort of vicious satire is more mainstream, than it will at home) - after all, if the science is patently absurd and dictated by the needs of the plot, why not the morality?

Unfortunately, Perlman can't quite seem to bring himself to embrace that cruelty; he only taps into that vein of dark comedy once or twice, instead pushing that storytelling necessity just out of view in a way that only emphasizes his avoidance. He could have gone another way, emphasizing that Adam as controlling and selfish rather than grieving, but he frustratingly takes just enough steps down that road to sour some in the audience on the character but not enough to actually wrestle with the concept. It doesn't help that Jonathan Silverman continues a long career of not making much of an impression here; he's decent enough when things are light and when Adam's sadness is simple, but embodying two seemingly-contradictory characteristics is more than he's up for.

It's a bummer when the lead actor is the weak link, because the rest of the cast of familiar faces does good work. Jennifer Finnigan, especially, makes this movie a lot better than it could have been; she establishes a very likable baseline for the original Dawn in not a lot of time and makes each of the later ones her own person, albeit with a common thread of knowing that her life is fundamentally askew. It's a terrific little set of performances, enhanced a bit by the casting department finding Kerri Medders and Daniele Romer, close enough matches for Dawn at different ages that the viewer might not catch where Finnigan ends and they begin: Else,where, Scout Taylor-Compton does a great job of pushing Emma toward the film's moral center even while she acknowledges and dives into the amorality that got her into that situation, at least until she gets saddled with some dumb writing. Richard Kind and Beth Grant ground big sections of the movie as Dawn's parents, funny but naturally muted in the aftermath of her death.

And the movie's got jokes, often pretty good ones - it may not always be able to harness the dark material, but Perlman and his cast can handle the eccentric bits, from Dawn's dream wedding proposal to the one she gets. The physical comedy plays, a subplot with an obsessed insurance investigator is almost self-referential in its obvious irrelevence, and if many of the supporting characters are basically one joke apiece, that joke is told well. There are plenty of moments when the audience can clearly see the better movie that would be when bits of the mean comedy work.

That's where the movie lands - a good idea for a dark sci-fi comedy that doesn't quite have the courage to be that (I try not to fix movies instead of reviewing the one that got made, but a running joke of Dawns riding off into the sunset with guys who are nothing like Adam would improve things in more ways than one). It can work and often does, but a lot of viewers will quite reasonably wonder why the filmmakers want them to like these people.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32032&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/17/18 08:08:02
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