The dinner conversation in an opening scene of Random Acts of Romance is so awkward it's easy to assume Holly and David are on a first date.
But viewers soon learn they're newlyweds.
It's one of the many twists and turns in the anti-romantic comedy that premieres at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Random Acts of Romance revolves around two couples with faltering relationships and the pot dealer, wacked-out receptionist and playboy who get tangled in their lives.
Dianne lost her teaching job to be with her attractive younger student Matt, and her attempts to inspire his ambition fall flat, while David and Holly flounder in marital monotony after only a few months. There's Bud, the pot dealer, who regularly doles out relationship advice, the seemingly innocent receptionist who soon reveals an obsessive streak and Richard, the womanizer, who's happy to be called anything but Dick. Relatable situations collide with surprisingly lighthearted incidents of stalking and abduction.
"I love you" hangs in the air at more than one juncture.
"We hang onto that word as almost like a grasp of trying to maintain the relationship," said director, co-producer and co-writer Katrin Bowen. "If I just do this mantra of I love you, perhaps we can keep it. Sadly, sometimes that doesn't work."
Bowen aims to explore the fragility of relationships in Random Acts. "And how sometimes we work so hard to try to capture love, to keep it, and sometimes you just need to let it go," she added.
The film is loosely based on the short, I, Stalker, Bowen directed for Kevin McComiskie when he and co-writer Jillian Mannion were her students at Vancouver Film School.
Bowen says Mannion, McComiskie and she drew on their personal experiences in writing the script, something she's done in her previous work.
When funding for Random Acts fell apart three years ago, Bowen created and directed her first feature film, Amazon Falls, instead.
The film, which screened at VIFF 2010 and garnered directing and acting awards, tells the story of a faded B-movie actress who refuses to give up her dream of being a star. It draws on Bowen's experience of entering the B-movie world in Los Angeles as an actress at age of 17 and the story of Lana Clarkson, one of the older women who gave her advice, who was shot and killed by music producer Phil Spector in 2003.
Bowen's script for the yet-to-beproduced Off Course tells the story of a model hitchhiking in Italy-a role she once filled as well-and her desperate journey to get home.
"Maybe that is the theme of my films, people that will not let go of things," Bowen said, adding she admires people who give their careers and relationships their all. "When do you let go? That's something I'm really fascinated with."
Random Acts of Romance pairs Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary and Stargate SG-1) with film and TV actor Zak Santiago, and Robert Moloney (currently in the Arts Club's Clybourne Park) with Laura Bertram. Katharine Isabelle plays Bud, Sonja Bennett plays the receptionist and Ted Whittall plays the womanizer.
The film's score includes songs by local bands Mother Mother and Sex with Strangers and dinner dates are shot at the Waldorf Hotel.
Bowen, who's originally from Calgary, lived for a time in a Mennonite community, acted in L.A., studied archeology at Berkley, modelled in Italy and has lived in Vancouver for 12 years, emphasized the importance of the mutual support within Vancouver's film community.
"People really pull together and help you out here," Bowen said. "[It's] something to be really proud of our city."
VIFF runs Sept. 27 to Oct. 12 with nearly 400 short and feature-length films from 75 countries and 107 Canadian films and co-productions. For more information, see viff.org.
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