Viewers mining autobiographical parallels between the onscreen action in Christopher Cherot's romantic charmer "Hav Plenty" and the off-screen life of the debut filmmaker won't need to waste time digging for the truth. Cherot, the 30-year-old writer, director and producer of the refreshingly unpredictable gem, says the emotionally confusing weekend recounted in his offbeat African-American comedy was informed by real life. The independent film, lauded at the Toronto and Sundance festivals, represents a quirky, welcome break from standard summer fare.
"Hav Plenty" has Cherot adroitly cast as the ironically named Lee Plenty, a down-on-his-luck writer and New York University teaching assistant invited to spend a New Year's Eve weekend at the girlhood home of his platonic Manhattan gal pal Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell). She's a vivacious man-magnet reeling from the latest infidelity committed by her boyfriend (Hill Harper), a smooth-talking rap/R&B star whose latest hit is titled "40 Ounces of Love." Also joining the small circle of friends in Washington, D.C., are Hav's insecure, newly married sister (Robinne Lee) and husband (Reginald James), and Hav's best friend, Caroline (Tammi Jones).
Cherot is a smirking, self-deprecating actor whose character occasionally breaks the narrative with direct asides to the audience. He gives a performance with a good-natured, bright comic edge that might remind some of Robert Townsend's struggling auteur in 1987's "Hollywood Shuffle," also autobiographical and made on a shoestring. "Come watch me make a fool of myself," Plenty says to the camera, as he heads to the bedroom of the amorous Caroline, an odd bird with ridiculous French affectations and the Paris fashions to match. "That was a close one," he reports, minutes later.
Plenty spends nearly the entire weekend engaged in will-they-or-won't-they encounters with the females at the household. He's a character, as the women gradually discover, whose smart-ass persona belies a complex personality and a violent past, a thinker whose reading material ranges from Somerset Maugham to Toni Morrison to the Bible.
The film mines familiar comedic terrain. Even the plot contour (boy wins, loses and wins girl) is a stock device of movie romances. Cherot, confining the action almost exclusively to the four walls of the upscale Savage home, touches on class consciousness and gets at the complexity of modern romance, a game as much about timing as it is fate.
Layers of pretense are stripped as the film eases toward some sort of resolution. "One little change, and you finally made the big time," Plenty is told after agreeing to a distribution deal for "Tru Luv," the film-within-the-film seen during the conclusion of "Hav Plenty." The filmmaker's conspiratorial, quizzical glance at the camera -- the movie's final image -- casts some healthy doubt on that proposition. Then again, Cherot did sign a two-picture deal with Miramax while soaking up the love in Toronto.