REVIEW: Anita Liberty [1997]

“You, ah, wanna get fresh?”

The September Issue, R.J. Cutler, and his Actual Reality Pictures joined with author Suzanne Weber to bring her character Anita Liberty to life. A pen name for her derisive work about ex-boyfriend ‘Mitchell’, I will admit to buying the misdirection and actually thinking this woman existed and had the guts to literally publicly bash the man that left her. True, How to Heal the Hurt by Hating is most likely still autobiographical, but I can’t shake the disappointment I felt with the absence of “Written by Anita Liberty” at the end credits. Despite that, however, you cannot deny the comedic wit at play, nor the well-constructed short film standing as a result.

Once the end plays out, you do realize the Sundance selection is pretty much an advertisement for her book—the character writing her literary sensation overnight after finally breaking free from the emotional hold of her ex. This fact actually adds another level of humor to the already sarcastic and cynical look into a break-up’s aftermath. Liberty (played by Weber) is a poet, whose work is seeped in ‘hate’ and self-pity, initially performing her routine on a club stage to an empty room. Realizing that she is better off alone than hoping for a return to the arms of the man who threw her away, her self-loathing soon morphs into a proactive path of acceptance. As the confidence builds through literary catharsis and talks with her jaded friend Amy (Arabella Field), her audience grows to a person on a park bench outside, eventually increasing further to a three-table contingent of applause at the club where she began.

Despite the man-hating diatribe underlying most of the poetry, you have to see the humor in the truth of the experience. Whereas most people internalize heartbreak or keep it close to the vest with a select group of kindred spirits, Weber/Liberty lets it all out into the open—the character saying it’ll be worth the trouble just to help even one woman. Alongside the humor come moments of clarity and seriousness too, the phone message about tattooing Mitchell’s heart with “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” sticking in my mind. But like most comic gems biting through emotional turmoil, it is the funny bits that resonate both for laughs and relatability. I definitely chuckled out loud more than once from her deadpan retorts to stupidity, the line “we both have skin” possibly seeming funnier than it was after a monotone suitor extols how he thinks they have so much in common.

The real success, however, is in Cutler’s direction and the collaboration on screen with his co-writer and leading lady. I enjoyed his use of superimposed text, adding a dimension of 90s indie-cred; the angled framing of Weber on stage, showered in bright white light as a black void filled three quarters of the screen; and how can you not appreciate what reminded me of a Playskool tape recorder carried around and used to great effect during the finale, an uproarious rendition of Liberty’s Independence Day? Also, if nothing else, you have to appreciate the piece for its early performances from Allison Janney as a gynecologist and Philip Seymour Hoffman (credited as Phil Hoffman and with a completely separate listing on IMDB) as a potential date. Anita Liberty is cute and surely a complement to the book upon which it draws heavily from. Being a guy, I don’t know if I’d necessarily run to the store for a copy, but I wouldn’t mind taking a peak as long as the humor here was retained.

Anita Liberty 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

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