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Review: Spread (2009)

Spread (2009)

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Premise: Ashton Kutcher plays a hustler who seduces successful older women and moves in with them, living off of their lifestyle.

What Works: Spread is a very effective film, part sex comedy and part drama. The film comes across as a contemporary version of films like Shampoo, Sunset Boulevard, or Midnight Cowboy and is an antidote to television programs like The Hills or Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which celebrate affluent but vacuous existence. Spread confronts that California dream head on, as its characters either embody that kind of high life or will sacrifice everything in pursuit of it. Ashton Kutcher’s character is given a choice between a life of material comfort but with superficial relationships, or a life of uncertain financial success but with the comfort of authentic human connections. It is a dilemma familiar to viewers of romantic comedies but Spread avoids some of the naivety and idealism that plagues romantic films by making things difficult for Kutcher’s character and refusing to give him or his associates a tidy ending where everyone gets what they want. In the process, Spread captures and critiques the contemporary fraying of the American dream, in which the divide between rich and poor grows ever greater, and conceptions of upward social mobility are not based on the Horatio Alger ethos of hard work and ingenuity but on a Cinderella fantasy of romantic intervention.

What Doesn’t: Although the film does juxtapose wealth and human relationships and questions what success might mean, it does a lot of that in a very methodical and by-the-numbers way. Key to this is the relationship between Ashton Kutcher’s character and a waitress played by Margarita Levieva. Their romance is sufficient but it never gets quite hot enough either emotionally or sexually. They have nice moments together and the ambiguity of the relationship serves the story but something a little more concrete between them would have deepened their relationship and the choices facing the characters.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, trailer.

Bottom Line: Spread is a very good film and in decades to come it may be rediscovered, along with The Girlfriend Experience, as a defining piece of cinema for this period, just as The Graduate was for its time. Despite its flaws, Spread successfully sets the cold superficiality of financial wealth against the warmth of human connection and that juxtaposition is a quietly subversive act.

Episode: #299 (August 1, 2010)