Review: 'Hard Sell' Starring Katrina Bowden, Skyler Gisondo, And Kristin Chenoweth

It's difficult to like any particular movie that has a woman being sold, so to speak, for services (even non-sexual ones), while the male friend basically acts like her pimp. Hard Sell, written and directed by Sean Nalaboff, is, forgive me for this, but a hard sell. There are several underlying themes that are touched upon having to do with mental breakdowns, of the expectation to be someone you're not, and of conforming instead of growing as individuals, but it's all a jumbled mess in the overarching scheme of things.

Hardy Buchanan (Skyler Gisondo) takes care of his mother, Lorna (Kristin Chenoweth), because she's incapable of taking care of herself. It's not quite clear what's going on with her, but she has almost burned the house down twice and doesn't ever leave the premises. The only solace and stability she has in her life is her son and their dog Wallace, who Hardy is saddened to discover has cancer and not long to live. Knowing that this will devastate his mother and rattle her mental state, Hardy sets out to raise $10,000 needed for his surgery. He seemingly hits the jackpot when he meets Bo (Katrina Bowden), a runaway, at a homeless shelter and offers her half of everything they make if she agrees to flash her breasts to willing customers (insert eye-roll here). While all of this is happening, Hardy tries to get closer to his crush (Hannah Marks) and Bo continues to run from her past.

To be fair, the cast works hard to bring depth and humanizing factors to their characters. Unfortunately, the script doesn't help whatsoever. The film doesn't have a clear tone. It's confused in a lot of ways. Does it want to be funny? Is it trying to make a statement about how hard being an individual can be? What is the point of using Bo as a "selling point" do for the plot? In fact, by using Bo in a manipulative way, the film diminishes her character and her worth. The focus doesn't really turn to her until the very last minutes of the film and by that point, it's too late to examine her as a person. Why bring in all of that nonsense about using her breasts for money and not allowing anyone to speak to her unless Hardy allows it? It comes off as just plain disrespectful to her character and to women in general. She's a pawn in Hardy's plot. Even Bo and Hardy's friendship, I use that term loosely, isn't very clear and frankly, nonsensical. Hardy's speech in the end, while he makes some good points, doesn't quite speak to anything that has happened in the film. It feels disingenuous and a monologue that isn't needed.

Hard Sell isn't very attentive to its own subject matter and treats its female character as expendable. The constant back and forth about making deals, splitting money, using Bo to further a cause Hardy couldn't ever hope to succeed in given the amount of time he has to do so is ridiculous. With all that is happening in the film, it's difficult to become immersed in any of it. The use of a woman as a means to an end is degrading and used for fun. Even Chenoweth's character issues are heavily downplayed and brushed to the side. There could have been something there, with Hardy taking care of her, but the difficulties don't even match the scenario. I'm expected to believe that a high school kid who doesn't work, and whose mom doesn't either and suffers from a disorder, is able to afford a private school and a nice suburban house? The only financial issue they have is a dog's surgery? Hard Sell lacks any rationale behind anything it presents and, while the characters have potential, all is lost amid the loose way Nalaboff presents it.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5