The Lather Effect

The Lather Effect (2006)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Connie Britton, Sarah Clarke, Tate Donovan, Eric Stoltz, Ione Sky, Peter Facinelli
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes

Generation X is the propagator of nostalgia. After all, Gen X folk are by-products of Reaganomics and the have-it-now, dispose-it-tomorrow, long-for-it-years later syndrome that lures late thirty-somethings into the malls they once prowled, flirted and caroused in as teenagers, now pushing strollers and forking over dollars to their kids for the arcades, versus a handful of quarters when it was their turn twenty-plus years beforehand. Generation X is defined by bangles and fishnets, checkerboard Vans (the first time around, thank you), Jordache horseys nodding on butt cheeks and space goggle-like shades with thin, droopy cords that hung over the neck. It is the era of MTV (when music reigned on the station), Alex P. Keaton, Donkey Kong and Axel Foley. Nonsensical greetings of "Have a Smurfy Day!" eventually gave way to "Get bent, spaz!" and talks about masturbation not only lost its taboo, it became the proclamation of cool.

As Generation X grew up through the idealistic eighties, the subdivisions defining teenaged social structure became more apparent than ever as one needed a crib sheet to categorize kids between jocks, princesses, freaks, preppies, headbangers, stoners, Goths, nerds, lone wolves, arm cutters, hicks, perverts and many other sectors. John Waters, Cameron Crowe, Stephen King, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, John Cusack, Bono and the oddman out "Headbangers Ball" were perhaps the saving graces to teenaged survival in the eighties, and as "The Breakfast Club" beautifully cut down the hypothetical Berlin Wall of Eighties Teenage America, one had to wonder what happened after the misfit couples kiss one another to the tune of Simple Minds' "(Don't You) Forget About Me," one of the finest choices for a closing song in movie history.

Sarah Kelly's "The Lather Effect" in theory exists to serve this purpose. What did happen to Generation X once it was forced to grow up and assimilate into mainstream society like their elders beforehand? Only the Baby Boomers have kicked and fussed more about growing old, while Generation X has mystifyingly subdivided once again between those who slipped dully into the folds of the right wing while others refuse to get with the program. Frequently musicians who enjoyed most of their success in the eighties will note how their teeming fan base in the eighties has moved on from what moved them during the decade of excess. They will complain their original core of fans no longer possess the commitment to their teenage idols, exchanging the carefree, wind-in-the-hair exuberance to the tune of White Lion, Tom Petty, Duran Duran or Janet Jackson for having the nuclear family and the sparkling domicile with up-to-date electric wizardry at their fingers to primp within.

Right out the gate "The Lather Effect" is going to ring like "The Big Chill" for Generation X. Though released in 1983, the same year as "Return of the Jedi," "Flashdance" and "Risky Business," there was no possible way Generation X could identify with a film about fifties and sixties' youth grown up and lamenting the time lost in translation en route to a midlife crisis. It was too busy partying in the moment with Van Halen and The Go The Gos in the background to give "The Big Chill" any time of day.

As time plays foil to the endless fiesta spirit every young generation believes will never die, what is left in the aftermath are friends departed on their own paths in a grown-up existence and sadly enough, the metamorphosis isn't always favorable, particularly in a society that grows more and more complex by the year. As "The Lather Effect" poses, one day you "go to bed happy in the eighties and wake up at 36, hung over and wondering wha' happened?"

Connie Britton leads this well-assembled cast of Generation X castaways on the dawn following a retro "Come as You Were" party. Immediately the film seizes a John Waters-esque identification ala "Sixteen Candles" by panning over the aftermath wreckage of the party, ironically a day before Britton's character Valinda and her tightly-wound spouse Will (Tate Donovan) are to put their megabuck home on the market. Cleverly tweaking the rich boy mansion torn asunder party-style with the threat of fuming parents grounding him for life motif, "The Lather Effect" utilizes the contrasting personalities of the pragmatic Will and the aloof Valinda to lollygag through the cleanup effort while bringing in the rest of the cast who crash with them for the weekend.

"The Lather Effect," as explained by Eric Stoltz's cavalier performance of an aged local icon reduced to a middle-aged nobody (though still maintaining airs of class about him) is when one washes their hair twice in one shower, the residual shampoo bubbles (lather) can stick around and cause trouble. Such is the primer to the film's integral theme: unfinished business from the past, particularly brought into a new light under different circumstances, can have irreparable damage.

As "The Lather Effect" explores the relationships between the eight Gen Xers and Valinda's younger brother Danny (Peter Facinelli), what is revealed is that the majority of them are intertwined through sexual liaisons. All the men are purported to have slept with Caitlin Keats' dominant (though secretly vulnerable) character Katrina, while the central blossom of the group comes courtesy of Valinda and Jack (William Mapother), a pair of high school sweethearts who went their separate ways (Journey style, assumedly) as unknowing dupes of mutual friend Corey (played by animation voiceover veteran David Herman), a fallen Hollywood star who selfishly broke them up ahead of their time. Thrust into a suddenly uncomfortable situation amidst a weekend filled with syrupy nostalgia and a slamming, evocative soundtrack from Tears For Fears, Violent Femmes, The Ramones, Twisted Sister, Laura Branigan, Elvis Costello, Night Ranger, a-ha and others, Valinda and Jack are forced to contend with this abrupt development at the possible cost of their marriages.

"The Lather Effect" is played at a low-key pace, thus allowing the cast to not only perform in repertoire fashion, but in a decidedly natural state, as if these folks (including Gen X beloved Ione Skye) really are the characters they embody. As writer/director Sarah Kelly drew from her own perspectives of growing up in a "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" Caliland of her own, it's evident between the film and her notes in the "Making of The Lather Effect" documentary on the DVD that the cast delivered more than called upon for

As the kids of Generation X were possibly born into a more socially composite atmosphere than the fifties' brats in "The Big Chill" (though Gen X never had to contend with the imposing and heartbreaking societal sweep of the sixties), "The Lather Effect" is an exploration of adults who contend with infidelity, addictions, divorce, gender bending, age differentials (the relayed tryst between Katrina and Danny is played sweetly to overcome its slight shock) and most importantly, the loss of good times and the unhealthy embracement of What If? Partying comes with a price in your late thirties, both on a physical level and obviously mental. From the generation that made it hip to mourn for your lost Underoos, "The Lather Effect" swims in homesick reminiscence, and while some of the characters react in less admirable ways than others, the lasting message is that friendship prevails as an immediate support group who find it within themselves to forgive and move forward into an uncertain future where it's bad enough their cherished music gets secularly categorized as "oldies." Just the way each character in "The Lather Effect" calls out what they feel is the greatest song of all-time, much to the others' chagrin, one has to appreciate the subtle and good-natured "High Fidelity" salute with said cutesy jabs.

Featured on the DVD is the aforementioned making of segment, as well as deleted scenes (the one between Connie Britton and David Herman in the bathroom is priceless) and a whimsical piece called "The Importance of Being An Earnest PA," which briefly touches on Kelly's time as a production assistant on films like "Gettysburg" and "Pulp Fiction." Finally, "The Cameron Effect" examines Sarah Kelly's affinity for director Cameron Crowe and how desperately she seeks not only his approval of "The Lather Effect" as a sentimental eighties piece but also a visit from him to her set. Coming off like an abbreviated "My Date With Drew," the payoff for Kelly is finally getting to meet her hero on the picket lines of last year's Writer's Guild strike, a fitting conclusion to a project born out of a romantic yearning for the past. Perhaps all that needs answered at this point is what shampoo Kelly favors…