Dir/scr: Michael Ian Black.US. 2006. 90mins.
Those foundations of the romantic comedy, sentimental faith andoptimism, are mocked and blown wide open in ThePleasure Of Your Company, Michael Ian Black's clever and engagingly piecethat unfortunately fails to sustain its free-floating, comic riffs right to theend.

Black has an extensivebackground in TV and theatre - both shorter, more compacted artformsthan cinema - and the big screen's extended format leaves him stranded here bythe third act. But despite such shortcomings, The Pleasure Of Your Company still hasmuch to admire in sharp, frequently painfully funny work from Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher, who are adroitly cast, given this feature'smovie's sly and informed takedown of movies like American Pie and The WeddingCrashers. There also appears to be a telling influence from the anarchicimaginings of the Zucker brothers (Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!).

The strongest commercialpotential for this GreeneStreet Films production isdomestic, given the peculiarity of the humour and the visibility of thetalented though largely unknown cast. A distributor with the means andawareness of the internet and youth marketing should enjoy limited but relativelygood returns in the mainstream market.

Anderson (Biggs) is anincurable romantic whose elaborately designed engagement ritual to propose tohis beautiful girlfriends ends in black tragedy, occasioning his depressinglybleak downward spiral.

A year later, goaded byfriend Ted (Weston), Anderson exchanges looks with attractive waitress Katie(Fisher) and impulsively asks her to marry him, an outlandish proposal that sheaccepts (Black bends time to insert a funny flashback that provides hilarious reasoningfor her behaviour).

The first half of the film iscarried by the funny exchanges between the central couple, inflected by Black'smordant humour and the funny, revealing ways in which he subverts typicalpreoccupations of youth humour such as the pain of defeat and physicalhumiliation. The movie's strongest moments come from an unrelenting assault oninstitutional values, flouting the hypocrisy and cruelty of religion, marriage,and family.

Unfortunately Black also introducesa large supporting gallery of "grotesques" - friends, family connections, ajilted boyfriend, Katie's incarcerated father (Pantoliano)and Anderson's parents' sexual gamesmanship - whofracture the storytelling to the extent the inspired is now undercut by theunfunny.

Black is also at times tooeager to humiliate some of his characters, a reliance that destabilises theemotional balance as the director loses the necessary steady hand to underminesocial norms.

By the final act, The Pleasure OfYour Company is too unfocused for its audience to enjoy the thrill ofrecognition and fails to marry the outlandish to a more generous, freewheelingsensibility. The result is it becomes the very safe and unthreatening thingthat it abhors at the beginning.

Of the cast Isla Fisher is the standout, a particularly bright light, whodemonstrates well Katie's needs and emotional rhythms and her constantlyshifting mood between a desire for independence and an instinctive urge forcontrol and domination. Biggs is a strong straight man, constantly pulledbetween his mind and his body.

Digitally shot photographyis bright and professional. The editing shows the director's TV backgroundthrough the many reaction shots and fast paced cutting.

Production companies/backers
GreeneStreet Films
Fugitive Films

International sales
GreeneStreet Films International

Executive producers
Tim Williams
Fisher Stevens
Bruna Papandrea

John Penotti
Jamie Gordon
Sam Hoffman
Courtney Potts

Daniel J Stoloff

Production design
Carl Sprague

Greg Hayden
Alan Oxman

Peter Nashel

Main cast
Jason Biggs
Isla Fisher
Michael Weston
Joe Pantoliano
Joanna Gleason
Jay O. Sanders
Edward Herrmann
Margo Martindale
Chris Diamantopolous
Rob Corddry