Rid of Me -Culture Clash in the Suburbs

Note: This review has recently been re-published on Devtome.

Rid of Me is a good example of the kind of indie film that’s fun to discover, despite its flaws. I cannot say it’s a great film, but it’s certainly original, funny and insightful at times. On the other hand, it’s also uneven and some of the characters are too much like caricatures.

On Netflix, it’s described as a black comedy and this is fairly accurate. It follows the travails of Meris (Katy O’Grady), a housewife who reluctantly moves to Portland with her husband Mitch (John Keyser). As soon as they arrive, things go badly for her. It turns out that Mitch, who is from Portland originally, has a whole clique of friends, as well as an ex-lover, with whom he grew up. These people are immediately portrayed as the worst possible stereotypes of suburban conformists. Meris cannot fit in with these people, and soon her marriage falls apart.

Rid of Me opens in an interesting and somewhat shocking manner. The music and ambiance resemble those of a horror movie as it begins with a rather gruesome (though not violent) scene that is actually from the middle of the film. It’s something you’d never see in a mainstream film, though I’m sure many viewers would be happy to never see anything like it.

The first problem with the whole scenario is that, while Mitch’s friends are wholly unsympathetic -in case we had any doubt how vile they are, they exhibit blatant racism towards an Islamic couple- Meris herself comes across as so socially awkward that it’s difficult to completely sympathize with her. That is, it would be hard for anyone to warm up to someone who only stares and stammers when you talk to them.

I suppose we have to forgive the film, or more properly writer and director James Westby for making Mitch and his friends almost unbelievably obnoxious and insensitive. After all, the film is basically a satire about mainstream suburban America. Yet it’s a little hard to believe that such people in a place like Portland would be quite so narrow minded and intolerant, at least openly.

As the film progresses, it goes in a completely different direction as Meris and Mitch divorce. Meris gets a job at a candy shop, where she is befriended by an ultra alternative girl named Trudy. She soon falls in with a whole subculture of misfits, who dress in black, get wasted and show a thorough contempt for anything middle class -such as Meris’s ex husband and his friends.

The alternative characters in Rid of Me are just as extreme and stereotypical as the suburbanites in their antisocial posturing. Ultimately, Meris manages to find a kind of middle ground when she hooks up with a fellow misfit (albeit a more mellow sort than her new alternative friends), a record store clerk who shares many of her bizarre mannerisms to an unlikely degree. For the most part, however, the film draws an extreme line between the two extremes to make it’s point, and I suppose for laughs. One of Meris’s co-workers at the candy shop, an ultra straight woman who is a stickler for the rules states, “I hate alternative people.” Does anyone really say things like that?

Rid of Me is one of those interesting indie films that works in some places but not others. At a certain point, it sort of drags and becomes repetitive as Meris goes back and forth between missing her old life and embracing her new one.

All in all, Rid of Me is a mostly compelling and funny portrayal of culture clash that doesn’t always hit the mark but is worth watching for the times it does.

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