In the realm of high concept romantic comedies, A Brand New You easily takes the cake for the most outlandish premise in recent years. The film feels like the Frankenstein’s monster of the genre, fusing together elements of comedy and science fiction to construct something that cannot be easily defined. Similar to the hairy underwear-clad mad scientist in the film, directors Kathryn Palmateer and Shawn Whitney are unabashedly blunt about their gleefully dark, and occasionally vulgarly, intentions. Openly embracing the “either you go with it or you don’t” mantra, their film is both brash and, underneath its ballsy exterior, surprisingly sweet.
The offbeat story focuses on Santiago Morales (Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz), a suicidal former engineer whose life has been in shambles since his wife, Viviana (Dalal Badr), passed away from cancer. Renting a room in one of the filthiest houses in North America, while he gets his financial affairs from the marriage in order, Santiago spends most of his highly structured days – he even schedules his washroom visits – watching old videos of his wife on his IPad. When not mourning his loss, Santiago finds himself butting heads with his landlord Murray (Clinton Lee Pontes), a sloppy and disgusting human being who has no sense of decorum whatsoever.
At least that is what Murray appears to be on the surface. Santiago soon discovers that Murray is actually the once renowned Victor Soares, a brilliant scientist whose career took a nosedive when he illegally conducted experiments in genetic cloning. Seeing an opportunity to be reunited with his deceased wife, Santiago devises a plan to convince Murray to make a clone of his beloved. All they need is a surrogate to carry the clone to term. As luck would have it Laura (Freya Ravensbergen), the lone female roommate in the house, has fallen on financially hard times after losing her second job. Unable to pay her debts via her waitressing job alone, Laura reluctantly agrees to be part of Santiago’s twisted plan for the right price.
Much of the comedy in the film stems from the fact that Santiago is to blinded by to take stalk of the ramifications of this venture. He fails to consider important elements – such as the fact that his wife will be reborn as a baby and not the women he fell in love with – that will ultimately impact his future. Furthermore, things get even more complicated for Santiago when is friendship with Laura threatens to evolve into something deeper.
Rather than going for the easy gags, though there are some moments of unnecessary potty humour, A Brand New You’s script is surprisingly sharp and rich. The characters in Palmateer and Whitney’s film are all damaged emotionally in their own unique ways. Their problems are relatable, and the bond that is formed between Santiago, Laura and Murray feels honest. These are individuals who, thanks in part to the strong work by the three principle actors, the audience genuinely wants to spend time with. We want to see them succeed, not so much in their experiment mind you, but rather at life in general. This is what helps A Brand New You to remain relatively grounded even its most outlandish moments.
As is often the case with independent films striving to leave their mark, A Brand New You does occasionally bite off more than it can handle. Certain story arcs, take the subplot involving a a rival scientist who catches Santiago and Murray attempting to steal lab equipment for example, feel underdeveloped. Side characters seem to serve no real purpose other than to setup expository dialogue. Fortunately, Palmateer and Whitney manage to navigate through the minor road bumps with confidence. A Brand New You is one of those pleasant surprises that, by all accounts, one would not expect to work on paper. However, through its wonderful script and solid performances the film proves to be a delightfully sweet romantic comedy.