Review: ‘Time for Doing Something Has Passed’ a deadpan sex comedy

A margin in the pages of her own life so far, the thwarted 33-year-old work-in-progress played by writer-director-editor Joanna Arnow has a name (Ann), and plenty of interests, notably musicals such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.” Her anti-romantic, sentiment-free daily existence pales in comparison.

For nearly a decade, we learn, Ann has been the submissive in a barely-there sexual partnership with an ice-cold dominant (Scott Cohen). There are other men, other sadomasochistic dominants, she tries along the way. Then she meets Chris (Babak Tafti), affable and attentive. Ann’s emotional wiring can barely recognize how a relatively healthy one-to-one makes her feel, or makes her wonder, at least, how this new feeling could possibly find a way past her defenses.

That description, I suppose, might suggest that Arnow’s debut feature plays by the conventional lessons-learned rules of romantic comedies. But “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed” does not play that way. The film is a tale of black-comic woe told in five chapters and 87 minutes, with extremely simple camera setups and snapshots, or blackout sketches, from Ann’s days and nights.

A sort of minimalist subversion of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Feeling” feels both extremely personal and consciously affectless, which is part of Arnow’s comic approach here. (Her 2013 docu-essay “I Hate Myself,” a chronicle of a yearlong relationship, operated in a similar, bracing vein.) Fragments of Ann’s soul-smushing work life are the stuff of “Office Space”-squared humor. “I was wondering, what is the five-year plan for the company?” she asks during a staff meeting regarding a merger in progress, designed to lay off an unspecified number of workers. Her boss’s answer: “Hmmm. Well, in some ways I like the question. But in some ways I’m a little disappointed because I feel like we’ve already covered it.” Pause. Pause. Blackout.

The bondage-and-discipline sequences offer Ann roughly the same degree of satisfaction. The methodical, cold-creep first half-hour of “Feeling” is aggressively clinical. Arnow, frequently nude, complies with the demands made by her “master,” who glumly, testily orders her around. The film’s editing rhythm shifts around that half-hour point, reducing the individual vignettes at work and various apartments to a few seconds. Then, when Ann meets Chris, seeing Arnow smile easily and laugh occasionally and edge toward a relationship in the sunlight feels like a small earthquake.

Narrow, a little merciless, “Feeling” sticks to its narrative agenda and, by the end, arrives at what Arnow sees as the one true outcome. The precise wording of its best lines are pretty amazing. Cooking a conventional online dating profile with two friends, Ann’s asked what she wants to list as her interests. “I like dense foods that sit heavily in the stomach,” she offers. Some films are destined for nervous laughter, with enough of a pungent aftertaste to linger. This is one of them.



3 stars (out of 4)

No MPA rating (nudity, some language)

Running time: 1:27

How to watch: Now in theaters