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In Gregg Araki’s new romantic comedy, Splendor, Kathleen Robertson stars as Veronica, a girl from the suburbs looking to make it big in L.A. At a Halloween party one night, she meets both sensitive writer Abel (Johnathon Schaech) and musclehead drummer Zed (Matt Keeslar). Veronica hits it off with both of them separately, and then – once they find out about each other – together. The ensuing three-way relationship is fraught with no shortage of predictable comic perils, included unwanted pregnancy and the dreaded left-up toilet seat. To Araki’s credit, he seems at least partially aware that his movie plays like an extended pilot for an updated FOX version of Three’s Company. Indeed, this material, while not exactly groundbreaking, might well have made for a promising first feature. But this isn’t Araki’s first. It’s his seventh.
Showing little interest in maturing as a filmmaker, Araki may actually be regressing. His two most recent pictures, The Doom Generation and Nowhere, were both scattered, incoherent and amateurish, but at least they were sort of edgy. If nothing else, they managed to dazzle the senses with candy-colored lighting schemes, expressionistic set designs and up-to-the-minute techno beats. These elements are also present in Splendor, but here they are subservient to a relentlessly shallow and one-dimensional storyline.
Robertson narrates the proceedings, stitching barely developed scenes together with first person addresses to the camera. The movie skips impatiently from Veronica’s first dates with Abel and Zed to the two boys moving their stuff into her apartment, leaving little opportunity for characterization. Abel wears glasses, Zed wears tank tops, and that’s about as deep as it goes. Araki shows much more interest in his trendy locales and Lucky Charms color scheme than in crafting believable human beings.
When the unwanted pregnancy strikes, Veronica is forced to re-evaluate her lifestyle. She takes up with the director of a TV movie in which she has landed a supporting role. His name is Ernest, which also proves an apt shorthand description of his character. He’s rich and caring and too good to be true, and of course, he asks Veronica to marry him. Will Veronica turn her back on her goofy twosome and settle down with Mr. Right? Are you kidding?
Splendor is a painless enough experience, and it’s too good-natured to really get worked up over. The most surprising thing about it, given Araki’s envelope-pushing reputation, is the movie’s tame depiction of the three-way relationship. Maybe the writer-director thinks he’s being subversive by cloaking this unorthodox romance in wacky sitcom conventions. It’s easier to believe, however, that this is a naked bid for mainstream acceptance. If that’s the case, Araki has reason to be proud. He’s made a movie as lightweight and vacuous as any pre-packaged Hollywood product.