A jagged little jawbreaker made by and for aggressive youth-culture addicts, Modern Love is Automatic is an ode to irony and to the kindnesses that die at its altar. Invoking post-punk tropes from its first shot, giant pink letters tell us that MELODIE SISK IS LORRAINE SCHULTZ. Immediately we get two names that mean little or nothing to us, and mean the world to the film as an entity. Lorraine is a nurse of the "tell me where it hurts" variety who conspicuously feels nothing for anyone or anything. She dresses in cool monochromes and takes care not to muss her graphic-design perfect bob; she looks impervious as plastic. What Lorraine grasps is exteriors, so it's fair for her to find a wannabe model as a roommate after she kicks her two timing, love-professing boyfriend to the curb. They both get in over their heads in the most antiseptic contexts available and the seedy underbelly of central Virginia (where the film was shot and takes place) is shown in largely unidentified sweeps. Numbers for this one can't be big but what the film is (a massive catharsis by and for early twentysomethings struggling with disaffect) has a market that's hard to tap, but a market that could really benefit from this picture. It's one worth pushing to the right audiences.
When Lorraine's nurse colleagues get excited about a wedding in the making she sits separately with her Tab (remember Tab?) and reads a magazine. Someone on the bus loses his copy of a bondage magazine and she reads it with fascination: this is perhaps the outlet she's been seeking; it's self-contained and requires little of her but to watch and demand, or so she thinks. Her roommate, Adrian (Maggie Ross), is a recent graduate of a local modeling academy (the sort that perches itself in a strip mall for all to label "scam") and while her puppy-like neediness is something Lorraine seems to comfortably tolerate it's also the key to the pair's common ground: they both reach to identify themselves through surfaces, a central trait of modern youth and exactly what sets so many into tailspin. Adrian meets a boy, Mitch (Carlos Bustamante), who falls for her and grows slowly more smitten with Lorraine's demeanor and arm's length treatment. As Adrian chooses one more degrading job after another in the interest of breaking into modeling (a painful scene in a motel room with an obvious porn crew signals a harsh revelation about boundaries and what Adrian "sells") Lorraine learns that her automaton-like actions with paying strangers in pleather are actually leading her down a dark pathway; something, it seems, is subject to change. Neither is set for comfort and they both need to face the fire before they can come out the other side. Coming out "clean" is decidedly not an option.
The film's view of early professional life is painful, and the film attacks the phase with a determination, seeing great cause in digging at that scab. Modern Love's aesthetics are so rough as to appear accidental, ironically director Zach Clark's interest in the less-polish-means-more-authentic visuals has a rather conflicted dialogue with the protagonist's tight hold of the visually streamlined. Surfaces, the film poses, both address all things and challenge all fact. Lorraine's chilly exterior is enigmatic but lonely and broken. A birthday celebration finds her silently accepting a totally awkward blouse from her mother (Cinni Strickland) while her father (David Birkenbilt), an apparently important doctor, excuses himself from the table for a call. "She could have been a doctor if she wanted," the mother says, but we all see why she didn't go there. Ultimately, this tension between loneliness and uniqueness, authenticity and disaffect is a cause/effect cycle that (to beat the cliché) eats its own plastic tail, which is comfortably addressed in the final scene in which Lorraine does a flawed but weighty Karaoke performance of New Order's Age of Consent.
Mercifully, Modern Love is Automatic doesn't feed us coming of age crap, if it did we'd have cause to begrudge its hypocrisy, rather, it suggests that the problem (that culture feeds us an image that can't save our souls) is also the solution, but like Lorraine, the solution needs a new outlook. A new outfit wouldn't hurt either.
Contact: Zach Clark, Modernlovemovie@gmail.com
Cast: Melodie Sisk, Maggie Ross and Carlos Bustamante
Director/Screenwriter: Zach Clark
Producers: Zach Clark and Sydney-Chanele R. Dawkins
Running time: 93 min
Release date: August 20 NY