“Liars Club” has trouble telling the truth

Amy Jo Johnson

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 13, 2002

2.5 stars

The moviegoer is never sure why the hero of “Liars Club” is so unlucky with women. He’s good-looking, bright, kind and has a decent sense of humor when he’s not wallowing in self-pity.

By process of deduction, we can only assume it must be his friends who are dragging Billy down. Kevin (Bob Marley) is a loud-mouthed misogynist who refers to women as chickens. Jimmy (John A. McDermott) is a “Saturday Night Live” wannabe who makes Billy look like a stud. And as for Brad (Jason Shaw), he’s not the brightest bulb in the room, but he has the type of male-model good looks that no man wants to compete with when he’s trying to hit on a woman.

Billy (Johnny Clark) has another problem. He’s secretly in love with Karen (Amy Jo Johnson), a medical student who views him as a dear, sweet friend. Never a good thing for a guy with more amorous intentions. At his friends’ prodding, he reveals to her how he feels.

“I’m never going to think about you like that,” she tells him. And for the final stab to his heart, she suggests he stop calling her.

This time-tried plot is nothing new, but the actors are a winning group who take the material and run with it. Their conversations are easygoing and irreverent, and just chaotic enough to seem real.

Though “Liars Club” was filmed in Chicago, few of the city’s landmarks are highlighted. We see a bit of the city’s skyline. And one of the actors references Garrett’s popcorn, but the trademark long line outside the store is never shown. Rather, most of the action takes place inside two real-life clubs: the Elbo Room and the Liars Club.

The friends separate the two clubs with gross generalization: sophisticated women go to the former, while easy women hang out at the latter. Anyone who has been to either of these nightspots will know both to be untrue. But I digress.

Billy’s friends are certain he will get over Karen once he has sex. Oh yes, Billy is a virgin.

Billy’s lack of aptitude with women is blamed on the fact that he was double promoted in grammar school and enrolled at the University of Chicago at 16. Sure, I can see that being a problem for a few years. But he’s almost 10 years older now. His issues run deeper than age. Being a child prodigy apparently hasn’t given him enough confidence to believe that anyone outside of his small group of friends would like him for who he is.

As in real life, the clubbing grows old fast. There’s Billy being too shy to approach a woman. Here comes Brad to “help” him. Gee, what a surprise–the women fall for Brad. Every time.

A smart man would begin to go out without inviting Brad. But Billy never seems to learn.

What saves the plot is the fine acting. Johnny Clark, who co-wrote the script, actually was a 16-year-old freshman at the U of C in 1990. As Billy, he is likeable and sweet and hints at the type of intelligence that is never fully explored with his character.

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