I’m not sure this film understands the argument it’s trying to make!
Written By: Michael Edison Hayden
Directed By: Michael Melamedoff
There were certain aspects of The Exhibitionists that I appreciated. It’s not often that a micro-budget film has as much production value behind it as The Exhibitionists did. In terms of lighting, cinematography, camera work, and even setting The Exhibitionists delivers the most bang it possibly can. I was also impressed with the majority of the performances in the film. Laverne Cox is the star of the cast, by a wide margin. Her performance is deliciously over the top and she goes with the craziness of her character at every turn. Pepper Binkley, Mike Doyle, and Lauren Hodges are also more than competent in their roles. Truth be told I was most engaged by the film when any of those four actors/actresses were on screen. I also didn’t have any issues with Michael Melamedoff as far as his direction went. He was often hamstrung by other factors, but visually The Exhibitionists has a certain unique flare.
The gravy train of positivity had to end sometime, and it’s ending right here. There were a few rather large problems I had with The Exhibitionists. These problems were so large that I ended up not enjoying the film as a whole. It sucks that these problems exist, because as I stated above there is plenty to appreciate about the film. But, the negatives in The Exhibitionists far outweigh and overshadow any of the positive elements.
Richard Short wasn’t the biggest problem I had with The Exhibitionists, but man did his acting annoy the hell out of me. He turned every scene into a competition for attention. I never got the sense that he was truly acting as much as he was doing everything in his power to keep that camera on him. This most comes through in the moments that call for restraint, moments where he utterly fails as an actor to show any restraint whatsoever. The physicality that he brought to Walter was also off in an odd way. I never believed the way his character walked, moved, or carried himself. If I can’t believe a character’s physicality then that character is doomed to fail. I wanted Walter off of my screen every second that he was on it, and I’m not sure if the writing or Mr. Short are more to blame for the awfulness of Walter.
Beyond Walter, the most damning problem I had with The Exhibitionists was in the conceit of the story. This comes back to the writing and what I feel was a pretty terrible screenplay from Michael Edison Hayden. The majority of his words ring false, and in the rare moments when he attempts to interject comedy or a serious dramatic beat the film skids to a complete stop. According to the press release, and the DVD case, for The Exhibitionists the film is trying to explore where documentary ends and pornography begins. That theme doesn’t interest me in the slightest, but moving past that there is the slight problem of that theme not being found anywhere in the screenplay of Mr. Hayden. He tries to exploit in his screenplay, he tries to be sexy, and he tries to be as softly pornographic as he can. But, that’s where his thematic reach ends, and there sure as heck was never a moment in the film where I felt that the screenplay had started to explore any connection between pornography and documentary.
The screenplay is also problematic in terms of basic setup and the reasoning for the characters actions. I can only assume that a fantasy element is introduced at some point, because if that blood colored punch isn’t some sort of magic punch then there’s no logical reason for the actions of the characters. I take that back, there’s no logical reason for the actions of the characters before the punch is introduced and after the effects of the punch have most likely worn off. Mr. Hayden does the film no favors, his writing hurts the film at every turn and it is what completely turned me off of the film.
I wish I had more positive things to say about The Exhibitionists. I don’t like being this negative towards a film that had some strikingly well done elements. However, the atrocious screenplay leaves me no choice. Because of that screenplay I’m not sure what ground The Exhibitionists was trying to mine. Whatever ground it may have been the mining ended up offering no rewards, and any of the decent elements contained in the film were dwarfed by the problematic screenplay. Micro-budget film or not, The Exhibitionists doesn’t engage with its story or its characters, and that is a sin that no film should commit.