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Spinster Review: A Pensive Anti-Rom-com

People have been spinning tales about love and romance for as long as there have been stories. Love and lust play significant roles in all types of fiction, ranging from Shakespeare’s most iconic plays to Pam and Jim’s will-they-wont-they drama on The Office.

By the time we’re old enough to start dating, we’ve been conditioned to view romantic love in a reductive way. At this point, we’ve been fed countless stories that start with love at first sight and end with happily ever after – a perspective that is problematic in too many ways to list here. What I will say is that at their worst, these narratives teach us that we’re incomplete until we find a lover willing to accept us, as though you need a partner to legitimize your worth as a human being.

Spinster, a new dramedy from director Andrea Dorfman blows-up the notion of universal romantic ideals, and in doing so, becomes the ultimate anti-rom-com. This story focuses on a newly single middle-aged woman named Gaby (Chelsea Peretti), who is suddenly forced to consider spending the rest of her life without a husband. Let’s just say Gaby doesn’t take the idea well.

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When the film begins, it’s clear that Gaby doesn’t have her life figured out. Gaby has a bitter personality, her business is going nowhere, and she barely makes time for the people who care about her. So, it’s no surprise when her boyfriend of three-months dumps her (even if the jerk does it on her birthday).

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Now 39-years-old, the one thing Gaby has figured out is that she doesn’t want to be alone. The problem, though, is that most of the better dating prospects her age are already taken. But there’s another wrinkle that complicates her situation. She’s a total flake who doesn’t have much to offer a guy who already has his shit together.

When I call this film an anti-rom-com, it’s not because it tells a cynical story that takes the piss out of rom-com clichés. Screenwriter Jennifer Deyell gets her message across in a less abrasive manner than other films covering similar ground. Whereas other anti-rom-coms spit venom all over the genre’s cloying and unrealistic tropes, Spinster channels its frustration into a compelling story by looking inward. The result is a small-scale, tender, and intimate film that makes its point without taking pot-shots at the competition.

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Peretti is the movie’s lynchpin – I think she may be in every single scene. And it’s a good thing too because this film is lacking in a few vital ways. There’s the dull production design, humdrum dialogue, and forgettable cast of supporting characters, to name a few. So it’s critical that Peretti’s performance as Gaby keeps the audience engaged. Fortunately, she has charisma to spare and dazzles the camera every second she’s on-screen. This fantastic lead performance single-handedly elevates this picture into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Peretti’s performance feels relatable and sympathetic, even when Gaby behaves in ways that may put viewers off. I got a kick out of the character’s unpredictability. She’s the kind of person that’s capable of unleashing a vulgar statement at any moment, even around kids. Pair that chaotic element with Peretti’s finely-honed comedic timing and signature snark, and you have a protagonist you can’t take your eyes off of.

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Spinster does an excellent job of conveying Gaby’s vulnerability. We know she’s the type of person who overthinks things, and we see her use overthinking as a crutch to maintain the status quo. For example, before taking a risk, Gaby comes up with a hundred ways things may go wrong. Her line of thinking is, “If, my attempt will inevitably fail, why bother?” Most of us have struggled with that very thought, at some point. We all have at least one defence mechanism that keeps us from getting hurt or rejected. Gaby’s armour is her cynicism. It’s hard to blame her.

Finding love means putting a lot of time and effort into something that may not go the way you want it to. Love, after all, is always a gamble. It’s like spending years planting seeds and tending to a garden that may not bear fruit. What’s most interesting about Spinster is how it asks us to question why we feel obligated to take these high stakes gambles in the first place.

From the moment someone reads us our first fairy-tale, we are encouraged to fall in love, marry, and have kids. This film showcases the considerable resolve required to buck tradition and then make peace with doing so. Gaby’s transformation from a desperate single woman to a secure loner is a rocky ride, but it’s a pleasure watching how she evolves with every bump along the way.

Despite the film’s low-key dramedy vibe, Gaby endures a harrowing emotional journey. The concept of marriage is so deeply ingrained in our society’s DNA that renouncing it is like trying to unplug from the Matrix. If living your best life means following Gaby’s example, pay close attention. A fulfilling spinster lifestyle requires self-awareness, supreme confidence, and saint-like patience for dealing with all the haters.

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