The short film Cuddle Party has made the rounds throughout the festival circuit and screened last night at SBIFF. Recognizable faces drew audiences into the theater, and the tagline “The Snuggle is Real” seemed like a setup to the perfect 15-minute comedy. Unfortunately, the laughs are few and far between, and what we are left with at the end of the film’s short runtime is a deflated sense of what could have been.
Drew (Rob Huebel) and Jane (Michaela Watkins) are struggling with becoming intimate again after Jane cheats on him with a co-worker. Resorting to alternative methods, they decide to explore a little-known remedy called “Cuddle Parties” or cuddling before counseling. The result is a situation that initially feels reminiscent of The Overnight, as the they join a group of other cuddler couples, lead by mentor Allison (Yvette Nicole Brown). Unfortunately though, from the very beginning, the sour attitudes of Drew and Jane are a turnoff and lack humor, to the point where you wish they would either stop talking or leave.
Selfish, rude, and arrogant: three qualities that make for an extremely unlikable character, and are also three of the numerous annoying personality flaws that our protagonists have. Yet they seem to semi-recognize their faults and apologize for them, though halfheartedly. It is clear during the film that everyone has problems, but the problems our protagonists have are nearly impossible to sympathize with because of their consistently terrible attitudes, which makes it hard to root for their success and happiness.
Executive produced by Jill Soloway, the creator/director of Transparent, the acclaimed Amazon Studios series, Cuddle Party, unfortunately,
misses the mark, even with these three comedic veterans. Director Matthew Irving Epstein admits that this story is actually a personal one- yes, “Cuddle Parties” are a real thing and yes, he’s been to “several” of them, although it is hard to believe that his experience was a positive one with the likes of a couple such as Jane and Drew in attendance.