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‘In Stereo’ a grumpy romantic comedy

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From left, Micah Hauptman and Beau Garrett play a cynical couple in writer-director Mel Rodriguez III’s “In Stereo.” (Courtesy photo)

The latest romantic comedy about modern, sophisticated relationships that aren’t as hurt-proof as they seem, “In Stereo” doesn’t suffer from the sentimentality and stupidity typical of the genre. But it doesn’t contain much emotional spark either.

At best a smarter-than-average friends-with-benefits indie and at worst a hungry-heart tapestry that makes one appreciate Woody Allen at his weakest, the story centers on two semi-struggling exes in New York City’s arts scene.

Brenda (Beau Garrett), a demanding actress, can’t find a gig more dignified than a herpes-treatment commercial. David (Micah Hauptman), a photographer, deliberately antagonizes strangers and then snaps pictures of their livid faces.

David’s current girlfriend, Jennifer (Melissa Bolona), has been cheating on David with his best friend, Chris (Kieran Campion). A chance encounter between David and Brenda reignites buried feelings. When Brenda, conveniently, gets evicted, and David just happens to have spare rooms, the two embark on a living arrangement that, wrongly, of course, they envision as attachment-free.

Writer-director Mel Rodriguez III, making his feature debut, injects smarts and welcome cynicism into the romcom formula and bends the rules by making everybody a pill. While his occasional use of split-screen scenes proves merely distracting, he demonstrates energy and ideas.

But the movie gives its characters few desirable or deserving qualities, and – doom for a romcom – doesn’t convince viewers that something meaningful is at stake. Nor does it do anything edgy or funny with the mentality that can’t seem to distinguish between a provocative artist and an obnoxious jerk, or between angsty creativity and self-importance.

The actors create convincingly unpleasant characters, with Hauptman particularly effective – but it’s a dubious achievement.

REVIEW

In Stereo
Two stars
Starring: Micah Hauptman, Beau Garrett, Melissa Bolona, Kieran Campion
Written and directed by: Mel Rodriguez III
Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

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