Ever been through so many rough spells in life that you begin to think the light at the end of the tunnel is almost non-existent? Enter the whimsical and un-wonderful world of Ava Moriarty (Lorissa Julianus), whose life has been a work-in-progress for longer than she cares to remember in the new indie romantic comedy, The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater.
In the years since a woeful turning point gravely affected her college career and public reputation, Ava has been resigned to dating a seedy construction business owner/Russian mafia boss Boris (Adam Christopher), while working as a dominatrix to pay the bills. That all could change to Ava’s benefit thanks to a loan Boris granted her to help invest in a development deal being overseen by her best friend Gabe’s (Shannon Brown) real estate partner – one that could flourish in just a matter of six months.
Soon, Ava finds herself in an even deeper bind when Boris abruptly breaks off the relationship, and instead of cutting all ties, demands she pay him back all of half a million dollars in loan money – plus interest – in thirty days. To make matters worse, Ava awakens one morning to find out that not only is Gabe’s business partner suddenly dead from asphyxiation, but to later learn that every dollar she poured into her investment is missing, all but upending Ava’s prospects toward a much-needed career and lifestyle change.
Upon a prior meeting with a diffident, uneasy Episcopalian priest named Radovan (Mickey O’Sullivan) looking to appraise an art collection to help with the church’s longevity, Ava’s latest chance to break even with Boris arises when she begrudgingly accepts the town Mayor’s money proposal, in exchange for incriminating photos that could embroil Radovan in scandal.
Faced with mounting pressure from Boris, Ava commences with the charade in order to get closer to Radovan, a man presumably indelible to personal relationships, much less confiding in anyone but his cancer-ridden mother (Joette Waters). In doing so, Ava eventually succeeds in forging a friendship with Radovan – one that reveals much more than the two could ever imagine – sparking romance that would test them in ways that could never be measured in dollars and cents.
As opportune as it is for actors to place themselves in roles they write – notwithstanding the usual audition process – whatever the case was here, it’s clear that the choice for Lorissa Julianus star from her own screenplay was an excellent one. From her use of talk-to-text and terse demeanor, to an equalizing death stare to equalize with her shit-eating grin when having to deal with awkward come-ons, audiences get a version of Ava that frequently explores her dimensions, with an inherent focus on the stereotypes she faces from peers and strangers as a woman, particularly of her current profession.
Julianus commands the title role of Ava with geunine poise and gravitas, and enough charm and introspective wit and snark to put Deadpool to shame, sharing tremendous chemistry with Brown on his sixth film here with his leading lady, and actor O’Sullivan – the latter who accords the film one of its most compelling performances. The cast line-up also bodes just as colorful, including Adam Christopher’s portrayal of Boris whose mafia affiliations aren’t the only obvious elephant in the room according to one other supporting character.
The film is bolstered even further beyond pantomime, venturing well into Ava’s own investigational acumen with the bible, the church’s history, and even brushing up on her own previous studies in various aspects of art history, which is right where the plot thickens just a little more. Her unwaning curiosity with the Mayor’s motives and Radovan’s own monetary means draws her into an historical search for the truth, connecting a trail between the church, a 1950s art dealer escaping the NAZIs, and the existence of one of the world’s greatest paintings which happens to be Radovan’s possession. Whether or not Radovan knows still remains a factor in Ava’s next decision for the long haul.
Director C.J. Julianus peppers things up a little more in his lighthearted directing debut with a small dose of MMA-style fisticuffs and action courtesy of co-star and fight coordinator Brian Barber, with O’Sullivan adding a little more depth to Ava’s revealations. The fight scenery doesn’t fare well in terms of editing, though the action is brutal and bloody enough to stir things up and pay attention to Radovan, just as the film brings his character more into focus in the second half.
Several parts romantic comedy, other parts redemptive drama and action with a little detective element, The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater is ripe with such intricate storytelling and detail, you’re never too bored or kept waiting for the next moment to arise. It’s got hefty deal of dialogue to keep up with, but it’s intelligently written, and aptly performed by a cast that gels excellently on screen, crafting a layered, substantive, tongue-in-cheek love story with fetish twist, and heartfelt messages that are sure to seize viewing audiences without the need for a safe word.
Frankly, a sequel that takes this character even further on her misadventures wouldn’t hurt that much,
The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater arrives on Amazon Prime beginning October 30.