LAFF 2011 Review: HOW TO CHEAT

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
June 19th, 2011

Rating: 3/5

Writer: Amber Sealey
Director: Amber Sealey
Cast: Amber SealeyKent OsborneAmanda Street

There are certain things in this world you know are wrong. It is wrong to steal, it is wrong to lie, it is wrong to cheat. But is anything ever that simple or black and white? Amber Sealey’s HOW TO CHEAT dives in to that gray area where something that should be immediately tagged wrong may also have other factors driving it, how those factors can effect one’s reaction to it, and whether or not they should have an effect on that reaction.

Mark (Kent Osborne) and Beth (Amber Sealey) are a couple that have a comfortable and honest relationship, but seem to currently be out of step with one another. Behind every joke Mark makes or every need Beth expresses, there seems to be a deeply rooted pain that goes beyond the normal trials and tribulations many young couples face when trying to start a family. Although neither Mark nor Beth seem particularly happy, it is Mark who seems to be struggling the most and has allowed this unhappiness to bleed into every aspect of his life (from his marriage to his job to his friendships) and has reached his breaking point. Knowing he needs to do something, Mark decides to cheat. This decision is not rooted in a malicious desire to hurt his wife, he simply needs to do something, feel something, other than the sadness and frustration that continue to come out of his interactions with both Beth and everyone else in his life.

As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that the sadness effecting both Mark and Beth is rooted in something not easily escaped or joked away and it is this shared event that is both driving them apart while, at the same time, keeping them tied together. Mark’s desire to cheat and Beth’s desire to ignore the past are both rooted in desperation - desperation to move on, desperation to hold on to one another, but more than anything, desperation to get away from the feeling of utter agony that never truly leaves after something like this happens.

Mark and Beth’s conversations are constantly laced with a veiled honesty that never truly gets to the root of what they should (and need) to be talking about. It becomes a constant push and pull between them as no one understands their situation better than they do, but at the same time it is this shared experience that keeps those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings at the surface making it a double edged sword of shared understanding and unwanted memory.

The story continues to jump back to a brunch hosted by Mark and Beth for two of their friends and their two children and we realize it is this conversation that became the tipping point for both Mark and Beth as they were forced to not only say what they had been struggling with, but truly face it themselves. It was interesting to have the plot points revealed in this way, as it showed how a conversation, which had happened weeks prior, had lead them to the choices they were currently making and dealing with.

The acting from the three leads is fearless and honest as they portray people struggling with relatable issues in a stripped down and believable way. The only time I was pulled out of the narrative was during Louise (Amanda Street), the woman Mark decides to cheat with, and Mark's first encounter. Although it was always made clear by the constant presence of alcohol that the two were inebriated while they were together, the sudden shift in tone from playful flirting at the bar to possible sociopathic behavior back at her apartment threw things into left field. Understandably, a woman beginning an affair with a man she barely knows (but knows he is married) probably has some of her own issues, but this sudden change in behavior caused me to question Louise’s motives and back story rather than focusing on the moment when Mark had to make the decision to cross that line between just thinking about cheating and actually going through with it.

Sealey proves that she is not only a writer with a distinct voice and a director with a clear vision, but she is also willing to go to the front lines and portray these characters and situations herself. She not only gives a candid performance, she also brings it out of her fellow actors.

HOW TO CHEAT takes on some difficult questions and does not cheat us with easy answers. No matter how good a person you may be or how honorable your intentions, we are defined by the choices we make and it is how we then deal with those choices that proves what kind of people we truly are. It is easy to stick to the black and white, but it is within those gray areas that a person’s true nature can come to the forefront.

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