SXSW Review: Loves Her Gun

Loves Her Gun is the kind of film festival movie that’s really a bummer to write about. Not because it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen, or because the subject matter was a total downer, but because the director, the cast, and the crew took a bunch of us film journalists (well, film journalists and me, anyway) out to a shooting range before the premiere, and fed us free coffee and rolls, and were nothing but super nice and friendly the whole time. And then, seated behind the cast and their proud sweet adorable Texas parents, I saw the movie, and… it just wasn’t very good. Shit, now what do I do? A bunch of nice people poured their time, money, and energy into this thing, just for the small reward that maybe a few people would see it and like it, and now I have to tell them it’s sucky? What kind of pointless asshole job is this? Should I just not write about it? Why  bother bashing a small movie none of you are going to see anyway? Should I just suck down the free coffee (we were promised gin that never materialized) and focus on the positives? The cinematography was really pretty! Great footage of Austin locations! In the end, I think that would be cheating them out of coverage (which was the bargain, after all) and you out of honest coverage. So, I have to fall back on honesty. That old “jus’ bein’ honest” chestnut, every asshole’s blanket defense of assholery. Like I said, not much fun. But you wonder if everyone being a little too nice might be what got us all into this mess in the first place.

So Loves Her Gun is set in Austin, shot with Austin actors and Austin locations by Geoff Marslett, who teaches film at UT. Shot entirely with dialog improvised by the actors, it follows Allie, a Brooklyn hipster who becomes an Austin hipster after getting attacked on the streets of New York. I know, I know, “hipster” is all but meaningless these days, but the vague generic quirkiness of it applies perfectly here. After the attack, Allie gets fed up and hops on a tour bus with a bar-rock band called The Karate Kids, who take the stage in karate gis with fake prosthetic arms frozen above their heads in the crane-kick position. Their stage outfits turn out to be the first and last interesting thing about the movie.

As I heard another UT alum, Matthew McConaughey, tell an auditorium full of people yesterday, drama arises when characters have desires that intersect and conflict with each other. The problem with Loves Her Gun is that, outside of Allie’s friend Zoe, played by the sprightly cute Ashley Spiller, none of these characters have any apparent desires. They’re all just sort of floating along aimlessly, and thus, so is the plot. What do these people even want? To be mildly exasperated, like Allie is for the whole movie? Improvised dialogue is meant to feel naturalistic, which can be great when it works, like in a good episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Loves Her Gun incarnation of it just dulls you to sleep with small talk that isn’t really about anything. And that’s when you can even understand what the characters are saying, which is about half the time. When Allie tells her new friend Sarah how she got her black eye – by getting the shit kicked out of her by guys wearing animal masks – Sarah responds, with gravity typical of the dialog in Loves Her Gun, “Oh, that sucks.” What does Sarah want? What does Allie want? Half the script is like this, with characters listlessly discussing something that just happened.

The festival guide promises a film about a woman who “falls in love with Texas gun culture,” but don’t hold your breath, because Allie doesn’t even pick up a gun for the first 40 or 50 minutes. What she does with it, at one point threatening her neighbor’s abusive husband, who we don’t see being abusive at all until this very moment, isn’t particularly thrilling either. Ah, the old deus ex guy-beating-his-girlfriend, that old standby for whenever a film needs a contrived vigilante moment. Can’t we come up with something else? A road rage incident, maybe? An animal cruelty incident in progress? I don’t know, something. Then the film ends, with a climactic moment that you can see coming a mile away, an incident that couldn’t happen in real life unless Allie was borderline retarded. But you can tell it was the germ of an idea that sparked the whole movie, a surface-level tale about what drives people to stock up on guns. If staged a little better, it might work as a five or 10 minute short. As a feature, it just feels like a short diluted with pretty pictures and not-particularly-noteworthy dialog. Sort of a for-friends-and-family-only kind of movie.