The Technical Writer written and directed by Scott Saunders, produced by Saunders, Michael Harris, Susan Leber, David Leitner and Jim Calabrese, with Harris, Tatum O'Neal. 96 minutes. A Vagrant Films release. Opens Friday (February 27). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 71. Rating: N
The Technical Writer is worse than awful. It inspires bleak, deep-February despair about everything from the rise of digital video to the death of childhood dreams. It's the story of an agoraphobic former journalist now reduced to living in a laundry room and writing software manuals. He tends to his only friend, a terminally ill woman who lives in his building, and he chain-smokes. That's about it until the swingers move in upstairs.
They're an actor and his architect wife who throw wild orgies. When the actor goes away on a shoot, he urges his wife to seduce the neighbour, which she does, curing his agoraphobia and making him a new man.
Thing is, when she transforms him, the writer turns into the most repellent snag you've ever turned down a foot massage from. Slicked-back hair, blazer, sandals and not a scrap of irony, either in him or in the auteur who dreamed him up. Eew. When the two prostitutes from upstairs, intrigued by his new look, come down to offer him their services gratis, the disbelief we've gone to such pains to suspend comes crashing down.
The swinging wife is Tatum O'Neal. There are those of us to whom her pint-sized Paper Moon con artist and her plucky pitcher in The Bad News Bears really mattered. She was the Gretzky, the Elvis, the Grace Kelly of 10-year-old tomboys. To see her here, lovely but twitchy and ravaged and incapable of acting her way out of her flimsy chiffon skirt, sabotages the film's intended message of hope.
Cheap, accessible digital video has given rise to many excellent films. The Technical Writer isn't one of them.