Amber Benson’s ‘Chance’ (2002)

19May07
Amber Benson & James Marsters filming 'Chance'

Amber Benson’s debut as a writer/director tackles issues of sexuality and relationships to a less than successful end. But considering this film in its context — a completely unschooled young actor’s first attempt at film making — I see a lot of potential. Most of the film, while choppy, is entertaining, and the characters are engaging. Shedding their Buffy personae completely, Benson and James Marsters tackle their roles with enthusiasm. Christine Estabrook also gives a strong performance, and scenes with these characters generally work. Lara Boyd Rhodes also turns in a nice little supporting bit, playing a one-note character with a really marvelous note: “I type.” But the last twenty or so minutes kind of fall apart in a spectacular fashion.

Chance explores sex and how it functions for different people and in different relationships. Because of a previous bad relationship in which her boyfriend used sex for manipulation, Chance has stripped sex of its meaning. Insecure about his body, Simon shies away from any kind of interaction, so he needs to feel a real connection to a woman to become intimate with her. Jack sees sex as comforting, a way to connect with people. The film also plays at reversing gender roles with the male characters — Simon, Rory, Malcolm — needing emotional connection in their sexual relationships, while the female characters experiment sexually and are sexually aggressive, with Chance possessing something of a “get some, get gone” attitude. More obviously Chance and Simon literally switch gender roles for the day when Chance’s mother visits.

Good narration is nigh on impossible to write. Off hand, I can only think of a few movies that do it well, rather than simply not embarrassingly: Notes on a Scandal, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and The Opposite of Sex, which actually satirizes traditional narration. While Chance‘s narration does have a snappy line or two, the voiceover mostly dwells in over-explanation. Benson relies on the narration to tell the viewer about a character’s traits, like Simon’s obsession with time, instead of just actually showing the viewer. The narration also needlessly informs the viewer of things readily apparent, like Chance’s love of tormenting Simon. Probably the strongest, or at least my favorite scene of the film — a conversation between Chance and Simon in the bathroom as she gets ready to go out for the evening — is narration-free and allows the actors and dialogue to define the relationship between Simon and Chance. I think it’s really a very good scene in general, not just within the context of this film. Besides the narration, the other part of the film that really does not work for me is the inclusion of the troubadour. While the songs themselves are fine, the performance bits just do not seem to mesh with the rest of the movie.

Simon doesn’t receive quite the character development that he deserves. One of the earlier scenes that I believe Benson intended to provide character development functions as a better introduction for the nameless couple whose presence in the film could have been edited out completely. The scene does establish Simon’s approach to interacting with people, namely firmly removed from the conversation, but I think that the scene would have worked better for me had one person in the couple been Simon’s co-worker. The scene needed a little more context than just “outside some building.”

The introduction of the strange neighbor is rather cartoony, and the story would have been better served if his first appearance occurred more naturally, for example, in the scene in which he helps Simon scare away the pizza delivery guy. I see the purpose of including the neighbor, but the conclusion of his story arc is bungled as he delivers a Heartfelt Lesson About Herself for Chance. That scene should have been excised from the film — Benson could be looking at a lawsuit for all of the anvils that drop during that exchange. But she looks fabulous while they’re falling.

Jack also is underused and underdeveloped, though serving an important purpose in the latter part of the film. His dialogue is also extremely awkward, though consistently so. Perhaps Benson intended for Jack to make poor conversation?

The conclusion of the film isn’t earned and lacks dramatic tension. The appearances of Neighbor Guy and Grocery Store Guy attempt to distract the viewer from the fact that Chance IS JUST SITTING AROUND for the last twenty minutes of the film, but the scenes are so odd that they create the opposite effect. The characters also begin making broad generalizations and statements about themselves and each other that the preceding minutes of the film do not support.

Amber Benson filming 'Chance'

I like Amber Benson. I respect that she realizes the significance of Willow and Tara’s relationship to the LGBT community and she treats her relationship with that community, that she maybe unknowingly forged, with some gravity. I also admire her steadfastness in refusing to super-skinnify herself just to win roles. I think she has a lovely figure and it is refreshing to see an actress with actual hips. I look forward to viewing her second film, Lovers, Liars, and Lunatics, to see how she has grown as a screenwriter and director.

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