Quid Pro Quo Dir. Carlos Brooks

[Magnolia Pictures; 2008]

Amidst the pristine backdrops of Carlos Brooks' writing and directing debut, it's easy to lose sight of the subject matter contained within Quid Pro Quo. The narrow cityscapes of New York house the tale of Isaac (Nick Stahl) and Fiona (Vera Farmiga), who attempt to add human elements to icy subject matter. However, this story of the able-bodied looking to live the life of the wheelchair-bound fails to reach the heights of drama its main characters desperately work to uncover.

The film centers on Isaac Knott. Paralyzed from a childhood car accident that claimed the lives of his parents, Isaac must handle the everyday hassles that a wheelchair and useless legs bring, not to mention the daily stress of hosting his own public radio show. When Isaac receives a tip about a perfectly healthy male asking to have his leg removed in a local emergency room, he begins to chase a dead end. His tipster eventually surrenders a location where "wannabes" meet to discuss why they yearn to experience the disability that makes Isaac's life so difficult. Finding no answers, Isaac meets his secret informant, Fiona, who admits she too wishes to live without the use of her legs.

As Isaac tries to comprehend Fiona's desire to be paralyzed, a love affair ensues, creating sparks that Stahl and Farmiga coax out of two hapless characters. If it weren't for the passion and intrigue the leads put into Isaac's desire to be normal and Fiona's dream to be wheelchair-bound, Quid Pro Quo would be entirely dimensionless. The plot, however, becomes stagnant when the cause of the car accident is revealed, shifting focus from a narrative based on fetishized desire to one based on a doomed relationship. Anyone with any film IQ has already figured out what comes next.

Quid Pro Quo may be more about the journey than the destination. But, sadly, Brooks doesn't deliver depth to Isaac and Fiona, and no amount of acting prowess can unearth what isn't reflected in the script. What we see of Isaac and Fiona is skin deep: he a lonely and recently rejected person with disabilities, and she a lonely person crippled on the inside looking for a way to make the pain tangible. Whatever seedy pretense Brooks and Quid Pro Quo may sell, it doesn't deliver.

Moviegoers of every walk of life have encountered similar narratives before, yet Brooks throws us no curves or bumps, aside from Isaac's wing-tipped shoes that grant him limited walking abilities. But by the time the device is introduced, the metaphor and the endgame have already been revealed, with no shock and little entertainment. The final blow is the film's abrupt ending, wrapping up the dark, Ira Glass-style tale with a nice, neat bow. Great acting can't save Quid Pro Quo's case study gone awry, but Stahl and Farmiga's performances do prevent the film from sinking entirely under the weight of its own indulgence.

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