When the intro credits rolled, a wave of panic swept through me as I had distinct flashbacks of The Room (2003), a film I, Portrait (2021) could be compared to as far as production quality and its general air of awkwardness. Written and directed by Nathan Hill, I, Portrait is a psychologically charged romantic thriller — the best kind — whose melodramatic story started out subdued but finished on an unexpectedly high note.
I, Portrait stars writer/director Nathan Hill and Natalie Heslop as Julian Ryde and Carmen McKenna, a married couple who live as a talent agent and an artist, respectively. One day Carmen opens her door to find an old friend, Stephanie Mitchell (Sienna Stass), who she hasn’t seen in years but inexplicably searched her out in order to reconnect. Inviting her to stay for a few days, Stephanie’s stay turns into a much longer and invasive visit as jealousy and history combine to ignite in one criminally passionate climax.
I, Portrait looks like a shot-on-video film, earnestly made, however, at times, it feels to be a parody of something like a soap-opera, leaving me wondering how seriously I should critique its melodramatic plot. It is the kind of film where its cast feels plucked straight from an acting class and the quality is along the lines of a student film, albeit a well-made student film. I have definitely seen worse films, and as an opponent of romantic comedies, I found I, Portrait‘s vengeful, mind-game playing characters made for a welcome twist on movies involving romance. In addition to the psychological thriller aspect, writer Nathan Hill also introduced, though only half-heartedly, for my taste, a soothsayer plot element that in retrospect had only little effect on the movie.
I also found myself laughing when the dialogue and story had no joke because I was laughing at acting choices such as giving their character an unnecessarily slinky gait or under-acting over-choreographed fight scenes. Also, technical production was an issue at times — just when I thought I’d turned up the volume loud enough, I found myself continually having to turn it up yet again, as I, Portrait suffered from lapses in attention to sound mixing. An Australian film, the actors’ line deliveries in I, Portrait were sometimes muffled, leaving gaps of understanding in key places.
I think it is fair to summarize I, Portrait as being like The Room, but if it was styled as a psychological-thriller instead of it just being the unintentional horror of a movie that it is. With similar gratuitous nudity, soap opera lighting, unnecessary plot threads that lead to nowhere, and cheap musical score, I, Portrait was only missing the certain je ne sais quoi that The Room possesses. Perhaps it is just somewhat bad and not quite bad enough to be “so bad that it is good.”
5.75 out of 10