A peppery, 'tude-laden micro-indie out of the Virginia–D.C. lowlands, Zach Clark's Modern Love Is Automatic seems at first to be an '80s postpunk-indie throwback, complete with retro kitsch, a riding disdain for middle-class manners, hot-blooded thrash soundtrack, and an air of disaffected apathy. But it gradually defects toward more subtle territories. Cat-eyed Melodie Sisk "IS LORRAINE SCHULTZ," scream the credits under the Norwegian black metal that serves as ironic aural punctuation. Caught in a supercool '60s mode and always sucking on a Tab, Lorraine is a numbed-out nurse incapable of the littlest social interaction. When she begins moonlighting as a hotel-room dominatrix, we hope to see her bloom. But she doesn't. Instead the action is provided by her new roommate, Adrian (Maggie Ross), a babbling caricature of a homely wannabe model who seems like a crude joke at first. As she persists, Clark's movie divvies up between Lorraine's man-whipping and Adrian's doomed efforts at self-justification—her pathetic job as a come-on mattress salesgirl is just her first circle of hell. While never losing its broad satiric sneer, Modern Love eventually becomes a portrait of an unlikely friendship, and climaxes with a shadowy karaoke triumph, to New Order's "Age of Consent." Sweet.
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