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‘Parachute’ Review: Brittany Snow’s Directing Debut Tackles Addiction, Eating Disorders and Anxiety With an Impressively Light Touch



Actor Brittany Snow (the Pitch Perfect franchise, Hairspray) just about nails it as a writer-director with her first feature, Parachutea rom-dram set in New York City and co-written with Becca Gleason (Summer ’03).

This astute, impressively honest portrait of a complicated relationship between Riley (Courtney Eaton from Yellowjacketswho picked up a prize for her performance at SXSW), a young woman with an eating disorder and addiction issues, and Ethan (Thomas Mann, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), a guy disposed toward co-dependency, is perhaps a smidge messy structurally. But then again, so is life. Viewers, especially those in the same demographic as the protagonists, will probably cut the film and its vividly drawn characters some slack as they try to navigate territory thickly peppered with emotional landmines.


The Bottom Line

Smart and compassionate.

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Feature Competition)
Cast: Courtney Eaton, Thomas Mann, Francesca Reale, Gina Rodriguez, Joel McHale, Dave Bautista. Scott Mescudi, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kathryn Gallagher, Ekaterina Baker, Jeremy Kucharek, Rico Paris, Kelly Jake, Owen Thiele, Chrissie Fitt, Bunny Gibson, Ryan Spahn
Director: Brittany Snow
Screenwriters: Brittany Snow, Becca Gleason

1 hour 37 minutes

Covering a few years in Riley’s mid-20s (which is, in itself, a refreshing choice given so many love stories these days zero in on tight, narrow time frames), Snow and Gleason’s script opens with Riley freshly discharged from a rehabilitation facility. We gradually learn she’s been in treatment for disordered eating habits and what seems to be a love and sex addiction. It’s not clear which is the more acute problem, but the prescribed solution is therapy with Dr. Akerman (Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin) and attendance at 12-step meetings. Although Riley’s mother Janice (Male Chester) is nowhere in sight for the first two thirds of the film, she’s given her daughter Riley access to a swish loft apartment and a credit card that never seems to get maxed out.

On her first night of freedom, Riley goes to a party with her best friend Casey (Francesca Reale), where she meets Ethan, who has himself just been released after a short spell in jail for a minor offense committed while drunk. A spark of attraction leads to a spontaneous dinner date and then, despite Riley’s insistence that she’s supposed to avoid relationships for a year, an attempt at sex at Riley’s place.

But the moment Ethan takes his clothes off, Riley’s extremely volatile relationship with bodies — both her own and other people’s — triggers a freak-out. Used to a supportive role, thanks to a childhood spent with an alcoholic father (Joel McHale, met later along with Jennifer Westfeldt as Ethan’s mother), Ethan calms Riley down and persuades her to spend the evening just cuddling in a makeshift fort made of blankets. and fairy lights.

This ends up setting a pattern for their muddled relationship going forward, with Riley too insecure about her body and obsessively hung-up on an ex-boyfriend to allow herself to have sex with Ethan. However, they are emotionally intimate like a romantic couple, with Riley referring to Ethan as her “best friend.” (Casey doesn’t seem to mind being supplanted given that she’s increasingly coupled up with Ethan’s roommate Justin, played by Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi.) It’s blindingly obvious, sadly, that Ethan is profoundly in love with Riley, and doesn’t see any of the imperfections she neurotically sees in herself as he affectingly declares in a key monologue.

The smart thing about the film’s grasp of human frailty is that it’s recognized that this fluctuating freight of feeling isn’t healthy for either of them. The dialogue doesn’t quite spell out the significance of the title, but in a director’s statement, Snow talks about how “there is always someone who is the jumper and someone or something being the parachute. We all use ‘parachutes’ to deal, whether it be other people, food, TV, social media, podcasts, shopping, sex, drugs, booze. We are all trying to ease the fall.”

And unlike 95 percent of most films about love, Parachute also recognizes just how much we use other people in every sense — selfishly, cruelly and without any thought of the consequences. Instead, here Riley is regularly called out for her actions and her solipsism — or narcissism if you wanted to be less kind — which often negatively affects those around her. Her biggest problem isn’t that she’s failed to find love from someone else; it’s that she doesn’t love herself.

Perhaps the above makes this sound like some bleak therapeutic parable, and who doesn’t hate that crap? (I actually cheered when, toward the end of the film, Riley meekly confesses to Dr. Akerman that she hates therapy.) In fact, Snow has the light touch of a skilled comedian, and has managed to rustle up an impressive roster of similarly skilled actors to fluff up the proceedings. That goes above all for Eaton and Mann, but also Dave Bautista, cast here as a kind but profoundly untalented impresario of the murder-mystery supper club where Riley gets a job.

But Eaton is the big breakout here, knocking it out of the park with a performance that never lets her character off the hook for her flaws, but never stops being mesmerically watchable. Given that Riley is constantly judging herself against other women — a thought process illustrated by flickeringly edited montage-ettes of swiftly observed body parts — Eaton is exceedingly well cast as someone who is unquestionably stunningly beautiful but in an unconventional enough way that it’s plausible she would feel insecure. Of course, even women who look like, say, Karlie Kloss or Bella Hadid — or whoever is the latest supposed paragon of beauty — learn to hate their own bodies if they spend too long looking at Instagram, and Parachute connects those dots very clearly without ever feeling preachy.

There have been movies before about women with eating disorders. But this may be one of the first for the Gen Z and younger generations that nails just how tentacular the psychology of such conditions can be, entwined with family dysfunction, social media influence and the run-of-the-mill patriarchy.

Full credits

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Feature Competition)
Cast: Courtney Eaton, Thomas Mann, Francesca Reale, Gina Rodriguez, Joel McHale, Dave Bautista. Scott Mescudi, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kathryn Gallagher, Ekaterina Baker, Jeremy Kucharek, Rico Paris, Kelly Jake, Owen Thiele, Chrissie Fitt, Bunny Gibson, Ryan Spahn
Production companies: Yale Productions, Rainmaker Films, Carte Blanche, Great Escape, BondIt Media Capital, Post Film, The Space Program
Director: Brittany Snow
Screenwriters: Brittany Snow, Becca Gleason
Producers: Jordan Yale Levine, Jordan Beckerman, Brittany Snow, Lizzie Shapiro
Executive producers: Clay Pecorin, Russ Posternak, Russell Geyser, Kyle Stroud, Gus Deardoff, Nicholas Donnermeyer, Patrick Heaphy, Jeffrey Tussi, David Nazar, Tristin Alexandria, Keanu Mayo, Mikania Pictures,
Eric Broughton, Michael J Rothstein, Menachem Woonteiler, Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, Tyler Gould, Jason Kringstein, Scott Levenson
Co-executive producers: Julia Ebner
Director of photography: Kristen Correll
Production designer: Michael Mizrahi
Costume designer: Lucy Hawkins
Editor: Henry Hayes
Music: Keegan Dewitt
Casting: Joey Montenarello
Sales: Great Escape

1 hour 37 minutes

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