In the final meeting of the June session of my movie class, we saw the comedy-drama “Petunia”, starring Thora Birch, David Rasche and Christine Lahti.
When members of a highly dysfunctional New York City family simultaneously encounter personal crises, can they somehow find a way to keep the family unit together or will everything completely unravel?
Charlie Petunia (Tobias Segal) is a gay man who is sexually shy; at his brother Michael’s wedding reception, his new sister-in-law Vivian (Birch) introduces him to George (Michael Urie), whom she happens to know is also gay. The two seem to hit it off and begin something of a relationship once they discover both men live in the same Manhattan apartment building. Meanwhile, Percy (Rasche) and Felicia (Lahti) – the groom’s parents – appear to be on the verge of creating a scene with their ongoing bickering. Following the reception, Vivian is starting to express some misgivings about her brand new marriage to Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas), causing him immense concern about their future together.
Meanwhile, their other brother Adrian (Jimmy Heck) has entered therapy in order to deal with his own issues: he’s a sex addict and now that Vivian is married to Michael, he desperately wants to sleep with her. As a doting mother, Felicia meets with George in order to convince him to relieve Charlie of his virginity, which he then sets out to try to do, despite Charlie’s resistance. Another problem with this is that it turns out George is currently married to Robin (Brittany Snow), who permits her husband’s homosexual extramarital affairs at the sacrifice of her own sexual needs.
Speaking of sexual needs, Felicia is feeling rather frustrated these days herself. Fearing that Percy’s lack of interest may be due to the fact that she is aging, she has cosmetic surgery performed in the hope that it will spark his interest. Percy, however, confesses to Adrian that his own aging process has caused him to considerably slow down in that department, forcing him to seek prescription medication in order to get things back in working order and hopefully save his marriage. Vivian suddenly reveals that she’s now pregnant – but is Michael the father? Even if he is, will she have an abortion despite Percy and Felicia begging her to give them a grandchild?
Possibly the most painful thing about watching “Petunia” is seeing it strain to try to be funny, which it fails to do with alarming frequency. It shoots for funny and misses, occasionally reaching mildly amusing. This is a movie that’s more annoying than it is entertaining; its menagerie of characters alternate between obnoxious, creepy and infuriating, resulting in a story without a clear protagonist for whom to root as well as a film seeming excruciatingly long. Given the cast, one might understandably expect “Petunia” to have a considerable amount of promise, but it fails – or perhaps it is more accurate to say “refuses” – to deliver.
Although it seems as though Charlie is supposed to be the character in whose story the audience is to be more invested, he’s not exactly the most sympathetic character ever recorded on film. In fact, I found him to be such a milquetoast that it’s something of a challenge to care about his predicament or root for him by the end of the movie. To a large extent, he is his own worst enemy and isn’t someone who can get out of his own way. None of the characters appear particularly heroic – including and especially Charlie. Ultimately, he succeeds in spite of himself, not so much because of any particular action he has taken.
In the class, our instructor interviewed cast members Christine Lahti and Tobias Segal as well as director/co-writer Ash Christian and one of its many producers Jordan Yale Levine. Christian and Levine were pretty tight-lipped when it came to discussing the film’s budget, but Levine noted that the way he thanked/repaid investors was to give them a Producer credit in the movie – so, if you watch the credits and count the long number of people with a Producer/Executive Producer credit, chances are good that they probably put up some money to fund the film’s production.