Allie Loukas’ freshman film, which she also wrote and stars in, has shades of John Waters mixed with John Hughes, with a good emotional heart at its center. Loukas’ Kathryn is a disaffected, cynical young woman who reacts to any experience of vulnerability by lashing out with a bitter, mean attitude. The director has spoken about her love of unlikable or hard-to-like characters, similar to our beloved Fleabag, and she very successfully makes and plays a character who is hard to like but who we end up rooting for anyway. I wondered when I started if I would be able to watch this woman be mean to those around her for an entire movie, but quickly found myself invested in her journey of growth, learning to open herself up to those same people and losing the harsh, self-protective edge.
Christopher M. Walsh also shines as Bob, a bumbling but caring father figure who is struggling with how to tell Kathryn that she’s, well…kind of a jerk, without losing his fragile connection with her. I’m being purposely vague about this connection so as not to give away any plot twists, but the long story short of this movie is that Kathryn finds out something that forces her to reevaluate her life, and the movie follows that struggle.
There’s also a great subplot following Kathryn’s mother, Elizabeth, following how she ended up in her terrible, clearly emotionally abusive marriage, and her realization that she deserves more. While Elizabeth can sometimes seem like a frustrating doormat, finding out more about how she got there adds necessary depth to that characterization.
The film relies heavily on improvisation in the Joe Swanberg school of writing and directing, and it’s impressive to realize that the funny lines that truly land may be entirely ad-libbed. That being said, this does lead to one issue where a character uses the slur “gy**ed”. Loukas has explained elsewhere that those involved were genuinely unaware that this word is a slur, which is believable as there isn’t a lot of general awareness around this issue. I trust that the director is invested in hearing that criticism and ensuring it won’t happen in future work. I will also mention that this isn’t the only issue touching on an –ism: those who don’t like hearing the word b**ch or the c-word be on the lookout for a couple of uses of that (by women, if that does make it easier for you to swallow, and it does for me) and Kathryn’s roommate is played as a pretty standard gay stereotype, though evidently the actor who plays him is gay and formed the character himself. Those who don’t prefer crude humor may also find the opening scenes off-putting. That being said, I AM one of those people who don’t prefer crude humor and the movie made it worth it for me to stick around after that scene.
Also, for those of us who are obsessed with clothes and accessories like me, I wanted to steal each and every one of Kathryn’s outfits!
All in all, this is a good watch for a lazy afternoon, alternately warming your heart and amusing you, and I look forward to seeing what else Loukas has in store for us!
Kathryn Upside Down is available for free on Tubi and for rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu, currently at $3.99 at each. Loukas can be found at http://www.instagram.com/allieloukas.