In the Mood for Love
Alex Holdridge and 'Sexless'
"I fucking love romance movies you can watch when you're depressed," says writer/director Alex Holdridge. "Romance movies that you can't watch when you're depressed are full of shit. They rub your face in it. It's like when there's a bright sunny day, and you're depressed, and you think, 'Why can't it be drizzly and rainy?' I wanted to make a movie you could watch when you feel bad."
Sexless is just that, a sweet and brokenhearted piece of cinema about finding love, losing love, cheating love, and simply trying to hold on to the slippery sucker. Holdridge wrote, directed, and stars in the film as Alex, the playwright torn between his libido and his long-term girlfriend Karen (Kelly Dealyn), whose use of antidepressants has torpedoed her sex drive. Intercut with their tale is the burgeoning romance between Carissa (Camille Chen) and Brian (Brian McGuire), two wounded souls inching toward an unlikely romance.
"It's an exaggerated version of everyone I know," says the director. "That's the cop-out answer, because I say that in the movie a million times. But it's totally true."
Twenty-seven-year-old Holdridge's mannerisms and autobiographical impulse instantly call to mind a young and less creepy Woody Allen. Indeed, Sexless is like Manhattan set in Austin. In the same way that Allen captured the Upper East Side intellectual set, Holdridge portrays the scruffy and uncompromising twentysomethings of Austin -- working at coffee shops and record stores, terrified of selling out, shunning tradition but choosing precious little to replace it. Austin almost becomes its own character in Sexless, a place that breeds romance and languor with its endless supplies of cafes and parks and minimum-wage gigs. Locals Okkervil River provide a gorgeous, aching soundtrack, with songs like "Listening to Otis Redding at Home for Christmas" practically woven into the script. Holdridge shot the film over 33 days, in and around the Drag -- Toy Joy, Little City, and Thai Noodles all feature prominently.
"I wrote the script almost entirely at Little City, and a lot of the locations are within walking distance of there, strictly because I was looking out the window."
Of course, scenes of slackers killing a day on the Drag evoke memories of another Austin film. What was it called again?
"Slacker had a big impact on me, because it was like, 'Wow, you can make a movie about hanging out.'" Richard Linklater's longtime editor Sandra Adair worked on Sexless, and Holdridge even shot one scene outside the old flophouse featured in the indie classic.
Sexless may wear its homages on its sleeve, but the film still feels fresh and honest and real. Sexless recently won both the SXSW Jury Award and the Audience Award for Narrative Features. Holdridge can add that to the Audience Award he won at the 2001 Austin Film Festival for his first feature, Wrong Numbers, about two teens trying to buy beer, which Holdridge is currently turning into a studio script on spec with Red Wagon. Big Things are possible, but as in romance and film, there's not always a happy end. "I'm just hanging on through SXSW," he says. "I hope it goes well. If it doesn't, I'll be back at Hickory Street, taking the trash out."
Sexless screens today at 2pm at the Paramount.