And you thought your ex-girlfriend was a messed up freak~
I recently rented Stained, a 2010 film written and directed by Karen Lam, through iTunes.
Main character Isabelle is a lovely, shy, intelligent woman who owns cool bookstore in the heart of the city. Isabelle has the sort of life that is the perfect setup for a romantic comedy: she’s got three cats, Jenny (Sonja Bennett) an overbearing childhood best friend/foster sister who is pregnant, and an ex-boyfriend she can’t forget despite her best efforts. Played by the luminously beautiful Tinsel Korey from the Twilight movies, Isabelle’s life seems quite enviable at first glance–hello, her legs are like a mile long!–as long as you don’t dig too deep.
Isabelle is a very high-functioning, gorgeous, Type A obsessive compulsive basketcase, tragically ridden with nervous tics and an inability to relax. The two young, hip employees of White Cat Books don’t quite latch on to their boss’s uptight, stoic approach to romance, which is basically to go without in favor of more agreeable feline companionship. Nevertheless, Isabelle agrees to go on a date with a hottie named Ralf when she gets set up on a date. Isabelle’s date with Ralf is beyond awkward, ending in an upturned tray of delicious butter tarts instead of a hook up.
Every time Isabelle starts to have fun, she is haunted by flashbacks of her horrible childhood. Little by little, more detailed flashbacks reveal Isabelle’s childhood as tormented by bullies. Equally tormented is Isabelle’s home life. She is desperately impoverished and her prostitute mother turns to inviting johns into the home in order to make ends meet. At age ten, Isabelle walks in on her mother in flagrante delicto with a customer. Later on, Isabelle’s mom dies and the little girl goes to live with her friend, Jenny. Eventually, Isabelle moves on to the big city while Jenny stays put in the provinces, keeping in touch mainly via phone.
Like a good depressive, Isabelle spends copious amounts of time daydreaming about her first love, emotionally abusive but hot James (Tim Fellingham) who was the first to rock Isabelle’s world as a teenager. One of my favorite parts of Stained is how the relationship with James is treated. No one can ever compare to James, however, any way we look at him, he’s a selfish prick. Fragile, damaged Isabelle cannot help herself; James is addictive like crack cocaine.
One day, James waltzes back into Isabelle’s life, magically popping up without explanation. Don’t get confused at this part of the movie, folks, just wait for it. Isabelle is over the moon with happiness. Yay! He came back! She’s getting a second chance with her true love! Sure, James is a bastard and she knows it but they reunite and all is extremely romantic for a while, despite the remote objections of Jennifer back in the sticks.
Soon enough, James shows his true asswipe colors and upon Jennifer’s phone advice, Isabelle breaks up with him and goes back to her cats. Things only get worse when the bookstore is broken into. From then on, the careful construct of Isabelle’s life comes undone because she’s fundamentally not a stable woman.
I won’t give any more away. It will suffice to say I enjoyed Stained. Stained is, in one word, unique. Though there is nothing out there exactly like Stained, though there are clear references to a 1965 Catherine Deneuve film, Repulsion, where a lovely, psychotic girl alternately fantasizes and dreads rape and leaves maggoty body parts laying around and in the fridge. In other words, exactly my kind of movie. Another all-time favorite film Stained has tinges of Takashi Miike’s Audition (subject of my Vegan Podcast and Potluck of Horror for October 2011). Stained shares Audition’s idea of a stunning, damaged femme fatale who lures in men without trying. Both Tinsel Korey and Sonja Bennett do a fabulous job depicting codependent friends, one pathetically needy and the other drawn like a moth to the flame. I did wish that when James and Isabelle reunited that he offered some more dialogue, like the typical slimy ex-boyfriend line “I’m staying at the no-tell motel, hint hint” just so we could love/hate him a little more. Isabelle turns out to be quite a terrible person by the conclusion of the film, though I can’t say I held out any hope for her after her epic mega-fail date with Ralf.