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Review: Spinster – “Avoids typical rom-com tropes”

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Chelsea Peretti as Gaby, Nadia Tonen as Adele and Peat as Trudy the Dog in SPINSTER (c) 2019 SEA GREEN PICTURES INC. Photo courtesy Vertical Entertainment

Get married, buy a house, have children, and live happily ever after. Society seems to have our personal lives mapped out with a predictable path, and no one feels the pressure to match this more than women. While there are certainly examples of women who haven’t fit this mould, once you hit that “certain age” these expectations can start to weigh on you and make you question what is truly supposed to make you happy. New indie comedy Spinster explores one woman’s journey as she grapples with these issues over the course of a year.

Spinster begins with a hopeless romantic recounting the day she met her fiancé, happily telling the tale in the hopes that Gaby (Brooklyn 99’s Chelsea Peretti) will cater her dream wedding. But Gaby doesn’t relate to the bride’s excitement, “Weddings started as a contract of ownership,” she remarks. But on her 39th birthday, after her boyfriend Nathan suddenly decides to move out of their shared apartment, Gaby finds herself surrounded by her happily married friends and their children. She seems like an anomaly amongst them, being asked if she won’t “regret not having” kids, and with one woman inquiring if she isn’t afraid to be old and alone.

Gaby is afraid, and she throws herself into the dating pool with gusto, having one dating disaster after another trying to obtain what she is ‘supposed’ to want. She begins to give in to the idea that perhaps she is meant to become a spinster herself. However, with the guidance of her single neighbour and time spent with her niece, she starts to realize that the road less travelled might not be such a lonely road after all, allowing her to embrace all the privileges that her life has to offer.

Directed by Andrea Dorfman and written by Jennifer Deyell, Spinster’s Canadian creative team has made what feels like a very personal story. The dialogue is certainly relatable and realistic, and while there are some predictable plot points, Spinster avoids typical rom-com tropes. While there are some big themes about societal norms explored, Dorfman’s direction creates an overall quaint feeling, and its Halifax setting lends to this. However, the director doesn’t shy away from using the expansive and picturesque Nova Scotia landscape to allow Gaby a moment of wider clarity.

After being cast in previous successful supporting roles, Chelsea Peretti embraces her first chance to lead a film and it largely works. Fans missing her presence as Gina in Brooklyn 99 will appreciate her here, while those unfamiliar with Peretti may find her typical sarcastic, monotone delivery a more challenging watch. That said, she is well cast to represent Gaby’s cynicism and her confidence really does seem to blossom alongside her character’s. Her scenes with Nadia Tonen, who plays Adele her niece, as well as Jonathan Watton (The Handmaid’s Tale), are particularly charming.

Spinster highlights the pressures that women face to have children, something that is amplified dramatically once you hit your mid-thirties. A dinner party scene where a guest calls Gaby “selfish” and aggressively tells her that she should “grow up” is a full-blown reminder of the patriarchal expectations applied to many of us. The film will resonate with people, like me, who are often recipients of the judgements of others for the choices we have made with respect to career and family. It’s unusual to see a character like Gaby portrayed on the big screen, but we are starting to see more refreshing stories like this – ones where the happy ending isn’t necessarily true love, marriage, or birth but in a realization that life fulfillment can come from so many other places.

Spinster arrives on VOD and digital platforms August 7, 2020.

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