Soft Toilet Seats (1999)
Directed by Tina Valinsky
Cast: David Alex Rosen, Alexa Jago, Sammi Davis, Jonathan Aube, Michael Greene, Margaret Blye, Terri Hoyos, Jim Golden.
1999 107 minutes
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R for nudity, sex, profanity, and mild violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 22, 1999.
The name of the movie is "Soft Toilet Seats." Get your laughs out of the way right now from that silly, downright ridiculous title, because you are unlikely to get many, if any, laughs out of viewing this so-called independent romantic comedy. The romance, er, the relationship centerpiece, that holds the film together is just about the only thing that works in the movie, as the comedy is almost always obvious and poorly written, the drama is as ineffective as could be, and worst of all, the movie makes fun of death. Not like 1998's "Very Bad Things," which actually had some surprisingly humorous parts, but as in offensively making jokes about a very serious and poignant death, only to have the "comedy" make a big, loud SPLAT! on the floor.
Arne Steinberg (David Alex Rosen) is a hopelessly single man in his late-20's/early-30's whose best friend and real estate agent, Joey (Jonathan Aube), talks him into moving out of his pleasant Venice Beach den and into a suburban San Fernando Valley home, where families surround him from all sides. He doesn't much like the neighborhood, and dislikes it even more when he discovers that the previous tenant, a young woman by the name of Annie Ashland (Sammi Davis), allegedly committed suicide. Arne isn't in the house for a whole day when the beautiful Tilly Rensley (Alexa Jago), a self-assured English woman and best friend of Annie, shows up at his doorstep, back from a 6-month expedition in the Brazilian Rain Forest. After Arne is forced to break the bad news to Tilly that Annie died, Tilly mourns (in an embarrassingly unfuuny scene that goes on forever as Tilly and Arne cry together and throw a roll of toilet paper back and forth as they wipe their eyes) and then sets out, with Arne in tow, to get to the bottom of her mysterious death, positive that Annie wasn't the type of person to kill herself.
"Soft Toilet Seats" is the type of movie in which the actors are so energized and spirited that you become convinced these poor souls didn't even realize that what they were filming wasn't funny in the least. Not even mildly amusing, where you believe something is "funny," but not "funny ha-ha." Nope, the screenplay gives them nothing to work with, and is so over overwrought and intellectually dead that the experience of watching it becomes more depressing than actually boring. First-time writer/director Tina Valinsky proves here that she certainly doesn't have a way with words nor does she know how to make a compelling mystery. The amateurish dialogue constantly cries out for another couple rewrites, and even though the film is supposed to make you want to know what really happened to Annie, as Tilly and Arne investigate, it doesn't include one intriguing sequence when dealing with their detective charades.
At first, Arne has no interest in finding out Annie's possible murderer, but initially goes along for the ride just because of his infatuation for Tilly, who thinks nothing of walking around in her birthday suit. Soon, however, their investigation swirls him in and he also becomes set on finding the truth, all the while forming a close bond with the kind, determined Tilly that doesn't go beyond friendship until the inevitable first kiss that appears during the last scene. We've seen this sort of relationship before in much better movies, but it still brings on a certain charm, thanks to the performances by David Alex Rosen and Alexa Jago. Obviously not the most skillful actors, they nonetheless work well togerher, and Jago in particular is someone to watch (she reminded me a lot of Kerri Green, a talented actress from the 80's who starred in such films as "The Goonies" and "Lucas," but then quit the acting business).
The flashbacks to Annie and Tilly's friendship is the real vacuous area of the film, as the scenes do not convince us that they are really friends, even though a seemingly endless sex scene between the two women is added to the mix. Once the climax arises and we learn how Annie really died, the circumstances surrounding them in this particular flashback is lightly touching and downbeat, but it is foolishly intercut with present-day scenes as the story is being told, in which jokes are made left and right. I'm sorry, but I simply don't think it is appropriate to be showing someone dramatically breathe their last breath, only for the situation to constantly be made light of. Worse of all in these later scenes is Jonathan Aube, as Arne's friend, Joey, who gives an almost maddeningly annoying performance. I'm convinced he couldn't act if his life depended on it.
So now we come back to the title. "Soft Toilet Seats." What does it mean, you ask? Well, Arne's new home, he is horrified to discovered, has soft toilet seats ("It feels like you're taking a dump on a trampoline!") in the bathrooms, causing him dire discomfort. Is there any significance to them though? I'm sure they are supposed to have some sort of idiotic double-meaning, but all possible symbolism is lost in the meandering, irritating particulars of the story. "Soft Toilet Seats" is billed as a "Tina Valinsky...kind of film." "Kind of" is right, because the film never once feels at all like a satisfying final product.
©1999 by Dustin Putman