There is a lot of dirty talk in Easier With Practice, an intimate drama about a fledgling author with a sensitive soul, a fondness for romance novels and an imagination that skews toward the raw. You learn about those feverish thoughts soon after that soul, Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty), enters the picture. With his brother, Sean (Kel O’Neill), Davy is tooling around on a book tour, reading his unpublished prose to listeners who can barely rouse themselves to lift their hands in applause. One night after a particularly forlorn reading, he answers the motel phone and encounters the woman of his wet dreams, Nicole (Kathryn Aselton), who soon benefits from his affection for books in which throbbing is the verb of choice.
The stranger warms Davy up by asking him what he’s wearing, but it soon becomes evident that she’s more interested in what lies beneath. The same is true of the first-time feature director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who based his screenplay on an article by Davy Rothbart that was originally published in GQ magazine. A tale about appearances in which not everything is as it seems, Easier With Practice tries to use phone sex as a way to explore contemporary alienation. Davy is something of a misfit who keeps his head down and sights low. He’s attractive, despite Geraghty’s unconvincing attempts to hide behind his straggly beard and glasses, but he’s socially awkward, panicky, inadvertently rude.
Nicole liberates Davy, who’s gently transformed by their late-night heavy breathing, even as she imprisons him in desire. He smiles, happiness radiating out of him. With his cellphone at the ready, he begins sleeping in the car, the better to have some alone time with Nicole, a move that puzzles Sean and seems to encourage his contempt toward Davy. By the time the brothers return home, having racked up miles and drama, Davy is in a literal long-distance relationship that has the emotional texture of a face-to-face, body-to-body encounter and requires a good deal of panting from Geraghty. You’re the closest I’ve ever had to a real girlfriend, he confesses to Nicole, a sentiment that might break your heart if you believed it for a second.
Easier With Practice has its virtues, but plausibility is not one of them. Geraghty is a rising talent, and he’s pleasurable company, easy on the eyes and sincere. Easier With Practice, which was shot with the Red digital camera by David Morrison, also looks good, though it’s overly obvious that Alvarez has put in time studying the classics of American 1970s cinema.
The opening scenes with their comically generic locations, like the bookstore with a sign that just says “books,” get the movie off to a puckish start. But some of Alvarez’s choices, including his fondness for shooting intimate exchanges in extreme long shot, come off as mannered and seem as if he were borrowing a visual style rather than trying to develop one. Like the gimmicky ending, the movie mixes the false in with the true, but it also keeps you watching.