Movie Review: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2013)

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Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

As focused on visuals as I typically am, it’s no surprise that I am a complete mess for experimental animation. If a film toys with stop-motion, or time-lapse, or imaginative cel animation, or cut-outs and silhouettes, I tend to be automatically entranced and very forgiving of narrative/thematic faults. Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty uses several animation techniques, to gorgeous effect, blended with live action sequences. The project started as a short film inspired by Nance’s real-life relationship with Namik Minter, who plays a version of herself. They are close friends whose dynamic borders on romance, but she remains committed to her relationship with another man, who is never named. Nance describes his frustration with his own feelings, his misreadings of and assumptions about her, and his disappointment when she blows him off for what he considered to be a special date. He expanded the project into a full-length film that offers more insight into their interactions, into his personal dating history, and into their future as a couple.

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With a disjointed structure and loose, unresolved narrative, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is at times hard to follow, and doesn’t really have any follow-through on its offerings. Realistic, I suppose, for a film based on actual experience, without the tidy organization of movie fantasy. Its comically bombastic narrator attempts to summarize as well as explicate certain events, moving back and forth between the original short film and more recent footage, all interspersed with colorful animation. I love love love Nance’s artistic vision, he ably blends this huge range of techniques but makes it all work as a single whole. His remembrances of past relationships are visually represented by fluid, painterly cel animation, slightly surreal to match the uncertainty of memory. Sometimes he moves into fantastical patterning, referencing mask and textile imagery of indigenous African peoples, but updating it with a sort of graffiti-style vibe. The saddest moments are reserved for stop-motion, with quiet clay figures lost in a black expanse, unable to move forward in their undefinable relationship, or for dark time-lapse footage of Nance struggling with the film itself. It is also a plus that everyone in this movie is really ridiculously attractive, and there’s a lot of wonderful big hair.

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What’s interesting to me about this film (besides the visuals, I mean), is how self-aware Nance is. When I first read the description I thought the story would be sort of (500) Days of Summer-y, like this self-satisfied romance told from the man’s point of view. It definitely completely from his perspective, but he’s remarkably thoughtful about it. He recognizes that he doesn’t fully understand the situation, that he is making assumptions about Minter, and that in obsessing over her, he is also oversimplifying her and essentially creating a character out of her. He sees his own faults, his own self-destructive tendencies. He recalls his past girlfriends and doesn’t place blame on them for how their relationships ended (it’s like a reverse High Fidelity, I guess). He asks Minter how she feels about his short film, and she decides she’d like to make a film about her own side of the story, and he helps her. Their relationship still felt a little ambiguous, she still seemed kind of unsure, but she was supportive of his creative point of view while recognizing that it was one-sided.

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I don’t think this is necessarily a “great” movie: it’s too disorganized, too meandering, and the concept is stretched too thin for a full feature. I do really appreciate what Nance has accomplished, though, a sort of visual poem, a self-reflexive ode to his own romantic entanglements. It’s funny and a little sad, with interesting turns from Nance and Minter as themselves, and enough playful camera tricks and experiments to keep the eye interested even when the script drags. I am so excited about the animated bits that I can easily overlook any other faults, and I look forward to checking out Nance’s other work and to any future projects.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The theme and mood reminded me of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is kind of a nice counterpoint since it offers a woman’s point of view on sex and relationships. The style of filmmaking was a little reminiscent of Four Eyed Monsters, another experimental love story.

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