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Waiting to Inhale

[whitespace] Hav Plenty
Good and Plenty: Christopher Scott Cherot directs himself as Lee Plenty in 'Hav Plenty.'

'Hav Plenty' is a frame-breaking romantic comedy made on a shoestring

By Richard von Busack

THERE'S AN OLD tradition in soul and R&B music of "answer records." One recent example was a number by a group whose name I can't remember, recorded as an answer to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," from the point of view of the scorned and pregnant Billie Jean herself. (The chorus went "Michael, Michael, you know the baby is yours.")

In some ways, Hav Plenty, the debut film by and starring Christopher Scott Cherot, is an answer to Waiting to Exhale. There's one direct joke on Waiting to Exhale (which seemed to me to have been directed by Zsa Zsa Gabor): a woman stretching out and exhaling noisily ("I just exhaled," she says) for the benefit of the uninterested hero, Lee Plenty (Cherot).

Plenty, an aspiring writer who is couch camping at the houses of various friends, is blocked both in art and love. Over the Christmas holidays, Lee cat-sits at the house of a school friend, the upper-middle-class Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell), who is herself involved with a celebrated rap star whose new CD, 40 Ounces of Love, is a hit. Plainly, Lee is barking up the wrong tree by falling for Havilland, who is very concerned with comfort and appearances and doesn't like self-deprecating men.

She isn't, despite her last name, just the venal monster you'd expect. Director Cherot sees the point of Havilland's not wanting to risk anything more than a casual involvement with a charity case, just as Lee understands how the world sees him. He embodies Hemingway's adage "A writer is poor first and then rich later."


Richard von Busack interviews director and star
Christopher Scott Cherot.


Cherot, an appealing, relaxed actor with superior comedic timing, uses a lot of frame-breaking devices. He addressing the audience like Michael Caine in Alfie and relies on jump cuts and fantasy sequences for jokes. It's obvious that like some other young directors--especially Noah Baumbach, director of this week's Mr. Jealousy--Cherot is a fan of Woody Allen. (When I talked to Cherot, he told me that Billy Wilder's Stalag 17 was an influence; he was writing in Hav Plenty about a painful love affair, and he thought that Wilder's comic handling of the agony of life could be a guide for him.)

It's also obvious that Cherot was fighting many financial constraints to make his movie, and only in the end does he lose the fight. Hav Plenty has a happy conclusion so false that Plenty all but apologizes to the audience for it when he addresses them at the end of the film. The upbeat finale, we can guess, was due to pressure by the powers that granted Cherot completion money for his film. Still, Cherot's charm overcomes the commercial considerations, just as Lee Plenty survives the pressures to straighten up and get a job.

Hav Plenty (R; 91 min.), directed and written by Christopher Scott Cherot, photographed by Henry Adebonojo and starring Cherot and Chenoa Maxwell.

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From the June 18-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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