An insufferable lead character makes the going rough in Noah Pritzker’s fitfully amusing dramedy.
Early on, Clark reveals himself as boundlessly egocentric and capriciously judgmental. When Etta (Kara Hayward), a lovely classmate with issues of her own, rebuffs his rather presumptuous romantic overtures, he ends their friendship with fierce abruptness and sets his sights on another attractive coed, Natalia (Morgan Turner), who’s appreciably more responsive to his attentions. Natalia is so smitten that she talks her mother (Saffron Burrows) and stepdad (Scott Lawrence) into letting Clark move in as a houseguest for an indeterminate period. Nothing good comes of this.
There are moments in “Quitters” — most notably, when Clark’s arrogant overfamiliarity unsettles Natalia’s mom during a shopping trip — that suggest the movie is poised to take a detour into the darkly perverse. At other times, especially when Clark’s dad appears ready to express his disapproval nonverbally, there are hints that the narrative might climax with explosive violence.
But nothing ever gets too far out of hand as Pritzker proceeds apace with a languid storytelling style best described as muted. Etta’s relationship with a nearing-burnout teacher (Kieran Culkin) is depicted with a restraint that effectively lowers the cringe quotient, and the film’s single most discomforting scene — in which Clark behaves boorishly after he deflowers Natalia — relies on emotional brutality, not brute force, for impact. It’s as though the entire movie were designed to underscore with understatement the sheer disruptiveness of Clark’s rude behavior.
Sorvino and Turner are standouts in the supporting cast, generating compassion for their characters without overtly playing the victim card. Germann plays his cards even closer to the vest, to nicely ambiguous effect. And Culkin has some oddly funny moments as a high-school teacher who conducts himself as though everything connected with his job — grading papers, drifting into an affair with a student, everything — is an unwelcome distraction from his writing.
Production values are more than adequate to the task of indicating that both Clark and Natalia are living in enviable comfort, if not luxury.