RIFE 2014: “Suffering Cassandra” reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 8, 2014 in , / No Comments


If Woody Allen and a “Clerks” era Kevin Smith made a movie together, it might look something like the whip-smart relationship comedy “Suffering Cassandra” (showing Saturday, October 11th at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza), a bare-bones story that centers on four young people grinding out their differences over the course of one stormy evening.

The film features terrific performances from writer/editor/director Roberto Carmona and Haely Jardas in her first feature as the contemptuous woman of the title. She’s so good that she’s either a complete natural or she’s not acting at all. And the film is so organic in quality that one might even consider its events anecdotal (If you’ve spent enough time mediating between diametrically opposed friends or family, you could feel that familiar twinge of anxiety).

75Carmona plays boyfriend Eddie, a DC editor and recent graduate who seems to piss Cassandra off as much as he feeds her intellect. Before driving to Cassandra’s college in Charlottesville, VA, the couple detour to pick up Eddie’s laptop charger from best friend Helen (Heather Rae), a perky theater major who’s just returned from an audition in NYC. Cassandra is convinced that Helen wants to sleep with Eddie, but Eddie constantly reassures her that the relationship is strictly platonic.

When Eddie learns that old college buddy Fernando (Sheen Mercado) is in town as well, a quick pop-in turns into margaritas. Margaritas turn into conversations about politics and religion. And when a freak thunderstorm puts the kibosh on Eddie and Cassandra’s travel plans, an awkward visit becomes un unbearable overnight stay.

“Suffering Cassandra” poses several conundrums that most of us have dealt with at some point in our life, but shrewdly doesn’t set out to solve them all in 80 minutes. In an increasingly combustible situation fueled by deep-seated insecurities and eventually lots of alcohol, the group’s tolerance for one another begins to wear thin, and little irritants begin to bud into some unpleasant confrontations.

Sharp dialogue is nothing if not properly timed, and Carmona and Co. deliver in spades. Where many films feel forced by trying too hard to be clever, or have actors that jump the gun with obviously over thought, pre-rehearsed responses, “Suffering Cassandra” achieves precisely the opposite with its cast: Sheen Mercado evolves from the horny, pot-smoking comic relief into a more dramatic character as some of his inner demons are revealed; Jardas is hilarious and heartbreaking as the austere, judgmental Cassandra; Carmona believably portrays an intelligent guy who’s conflicted about his future but knows deep down that he’s in love. It’s understandable, palpable even, how Helen (whose masked fragility Heather Rae captures remarkably well) is “distracted” by him; by the same token it’s easy to sympathize with Cassandra, who, though impossibly cynical, we have to imagine we’re seeing the worst of in a scenario that she was desperately hoping to avoid.

This is not “The Taming of the Shrew”, though I imagine it must have crossed Carmona’s mind at least once while writing the script. “Suffering Cassandra” is a dramatic comedy that’s geared for millennials but has just the right timbre to resonate all the way back to the baby boomers — it’s funny, smart, and most of all, relatable.

Tickets: reelindependentfilm.com

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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