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First Look Review - A Brand New You

A widower enlists a disgraced scientist in an attempt to clone his dead wife.


Review by Ren Zelen*

Directed by: Kathryn Palmateer, Shawn Whitney

Staring: Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, Freya Ravensbergen, Clinton Lee Pontes, Dalal Badr, Vanessa Burns



"By steering away from stereotypes and clichés, writers and directors Shawn Whitney and Kathryn Palmateer generate characters and situations we don’t usually see in mainstream movies, bringing something more idiosyncratically amusing to the screen."

Things are not always what they seem, and we can’t always go on first impressions. Sure, sometimes what you see is what you get, but so often events take an unexpected turn and what one thought about life and the companions one is thrown together with, gets irretrievably muddled or turned on its head. This must be a source of considerable frustration for control freaks or people who find the messiness of life difficult to tolerate.
In indie movie A Brand New You, Santiago Morales (Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz) is a 30-year-old who demands a neat and ordered existence (one where he even regulates the time of day when he must evacuate his bowels). The unexpected death of his beloved wife Viviana (Dalal Badr) wreaks such havoc on his psych that he sees suicide as the only method by which he can regain some form of control. The tragic early death of his beloved was not supposed to happen, and he can’t deal with the loss of what he considers to be his perfect love or the hole it leaves in his well-regulated existence.
In typically methodical fashion, Santiago sells his house, puts his affairs in order and chooses to commit suicide in a boarding house, leaving a note and cash for any ‘cleaning expenses’ incurred. Then he takes a bottle of pills, lies on the bed with a photo of Viviana and waits for the end to come.
But as I mentioned before, things don’t always go according to plan. He is discovered by housemate Laura (Freya Ravensbergen), who saves his life – much to his chagrin. Finding himself unintentionally alive, he must come to terms with sharing an uncalculated, disordered existence with his ill-matched and irksome housemates.
His landlord is Murray (Clinton Lee Pontes), cartoonishly lewd, drunken, scatological and unwashed - wandering around the house (and possibly the neighbourhood) in nothing but his underwear, like a hairy, slovenly caveman. We’re not enlightened as to why Murray is so determinedly disgusting. Is it because he’s lost his job as a top-notch biological scientist dabbling in illegal cloning experiments and now forced to live incognito? Or, as appears to be the case, is he just inclined to be obnoxious?
The young widower Santiago hatches an outrageous plan to force the disgraced scientist to clone his dead wife and somehow persuade his gentle housemate Laura to be the surrogate mother to the baby. But first they have to build a home-lab from kitchen utensils and stuff they can scrounge up from ebay.
As the film progresses, we get to find out more about our dysfunctional ménage. Santiago is not only suicidal but it’s revealed that his devotion to his wife, although benevolent, was selfishly idealized and controlling. It appears that he made her act out a series of scripted home-video conversations before her death, and he spends an inordinate amount of time watching them on his iPad.
Laura, the sole woman of the house, is massively in debt and has such a low sense of self-worth that she agrees to Santiago’s crazy scheme, and is willing to put her body in pain and in danger under Murray’s less than solicitous scientific ministrations.
Murray is actually the notorious Dr.Victor Soares, still clandestinely worshipped by science geeks who seek him out for his input regarding their own illegal experimentation with cloning - and are willing to pay for his expertise and Santiago’s engineering skills.
A Brand New You  is not exactly a laugh-out-loud comedy fest, but rather it brings to mind the reality based but somewhat absurd style of comedy that made Flight of the Conchords such a success. The movie occasionally tends to get away from itself in its indie enthusiasm, but is kept anchored by the measured performances of the two leads – Manuel Rodrigues-Saenez staying just this side of parody while Freya Ravensberger remains low-key and sympathetic. A cutesy soundtrack also adds to the atmosphere of bittersweet craziness.
So is this movie science-fiction? Is it a rom-com? Is it a science-rom-com? Is it some kind of new genre? These may be questions which annoy or disturb distribution companies, but for the viewer this lack of easy categorization is a good thing. It means we’re dealing with something with a bit of originality, and during this era of safe choices by the mainstream movie production companies - offering mostly a stream of reboots, sequels or franchises - it’s refreshing to sit down and watch a movie and not guess where it’s going to go after the first 10 minutes of viewing.
By steering away from stereotypes and clichés, writers and directors Shawn Whitney and Kathryn Palmateer generate characters and situations we don’t usually see in mainstream movies, bringing something more idiosyncratically amusing to the screen. The movie may occasionally attempt to throw too much into the mix, good and bad, but perhaps that’s the point. Life is just that; a mad, unpredictable and uncontrollable mix of the fortunate and unfortunate, and we all flounder about a bit while trying to make sense of it all.



*Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved

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