Sundance Film: Uncle Kent

February 2, 2011 : 9:54 pm | by James Tobey

Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent is, by all conventional measures, a very flawed film- the film’s whimsical, slipshod style becomes apparent as soon as the opening credits roll. Simplistic font and visuals enmeshed with the abrasive, childlike sounds of a pawnshop keyboard coax the viewer to immediately abandon their idealized expectations concerning the film.

Swanberg manages to portray anti-hero Kent, played by Kent Osbourne, in a surprisingly realistic and identifiable fashion. Forty years old and single, the dating world is not looking well for Kent. It seems his time for true love has passed, surrounded by women blinded by their desperation for marriage and children, neither of which feel right for Kent. That is, until he meets Kate, played by Jennifer Prediger, on Chatroulette-a beautiful and like-mindedly curious journalist.

Transitioning their relationship from virtual to real ultimately leads to tragic confusion for both. Kent is unsure about how to respond to the infatuation he feels for Kate, because of the mixed signals that Kate sends-although she has a serious boyfriend, she ‘accidentally’ shows Kent a nude photo of herself on her camera. Their emotional closeness is evident when they share with one another the embarrassing idiosyncrasies of their masturbation techniques. Nonetheless, there is clear physical distance between the two. When a craigslist ad inspires a raunchy threesome, the platonic nature of their relationship is made clear, as Kent is more of a spectator than a participant. The underlying truth is that intimacy and attraction do not necessarily go hand in hand, and one can’t help but laugh and despair at Kent’s quirky story.

Deadpan and sparse, Uncle Kent has a minimalistic simplicity that drew attention to it’s strong points and made me overlook some of the flaws. If you go with the decidedly imperfect nature of the film, it entertains with punchy humor and a camera verite directorial style that gives emphasis to the film’s humble and genuine story.

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