Wrapping up a week of independent films during the 15th year of its namesake festival, Gen Art presented Mercy on Tuesday night at the SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street. The love story, which has already been snagged by IFC Films and garnered Best Film and Best Director at the Savannah Film Festival, oozes style, the handiwork of director Patrick Hoelck. As for the substance — which we’ll credit to screenwriter/actor Scott Caan — Mercy leaves something to be desired. Perhaps the appeal of writing one’s own starring role was too much to resist for Caan, whose previous credits include the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and, um, Gone in Sixty Seconds. A cameo role by real-life Caan Senior improved the proceedings, though the weight of Mercy‘s faux depth buckled under its own noir-ish Los Angeles aesthetic.
Scott Caan plays the protagonist, a swinging and single cad-about-town who has just finished his third book, the last in a series of fluffy romance novels. You see, Johnny Ryan doesn’t believe in love, per se, but he does believe in making money off the idea of it. Ryan offers no-nonsense bro advice to his friend Erik (John Boyd, who provides the film’s much-welcome dose of comic relief), who is rather hilariously suffering the slings and arrows and recent heartbreak. The duo’s other pal, straight man Dane, is happily married to A Rad Chick and has been pals with “Johnnyboy” since childhood.
During the book party for the aforementioned third novel, in which Dylan McDermott makes a charming appearance as Ryan’s agent, the writer meets his match: a gorgeous Brit named Mercy (Wendy Glenn) who gives him the brush-off and is soon revealed as a book critic who trashed Ryan in a press review. Despite those odds, the two end up hanging out, watching The Outsiders in Ryan’s sparsely decorated apartment and not drinking (he gave up the sauce years ago once he decided to become A Serious Writer).
The film is structured in a series of flashbacks titled “Before” and “After,” illustrated for the audience via vintage typewriter which Ryan uses to compose his books. As one might suppose from the title, Mercy becomes a moving force in his life, introducing him to love while improving his writing. And as one might suppose from the before/after structure, things don’t stay peachy for too long.
Though the exploration of love in Mercy is nowhere near as complex as Caan and team would like — in fact, the serious portions play out as something akin to melodrama — there are some winning moments. The relationship between the three friends is realistically fleshed out, and a dinner scene between Dane, his wife, Johnny, and special guest Erika Christensen builds nicely, bringing climax to a sequence of events that was getting a bit fuzzy, plotwise. The onscreen dynamic between Scott Caan and James Caan was wholly entertaining — watching as two characters who share DNA (and presence, and mannerisms, and gait) interact in front of a camera satisfies a weird fascination with Hollywood show business.
And while fashion-photographer-turned-director Patrick Hoelck deserves kudos for establishing tone and setting up aesthetically pleasing shots, the film as a whole reads like a heavy styled photo shoot. Vintage typewriters! The Roosevelt Hotel! Retro sports car! Natty suits! Which, come to think of it, may perfectly encapsulate the slick veneer of young Angelenos seeking gravitas in the throes of infatuation.