Like a wrestler struggling to balance his real-life and in-the-ring personas, the grappling comedy “Heels” feels torn between its dual personalities, one warm, one coarse. Though individual parts work, this indie film from actor-writer-director Ryan Bottiglieri never fully unites its various elements and disparate tones into a well-crafted whole.
Brothers Jody (Bottiglieri) and Ronnie Lackey (Britt George) will do anything to save the restaurant owned by their adoptive family, including wrestling in local matches in elaborate costumes. Though they’re trying to be heroes at home, the pair are always cast as villains (a.k.a. the heels) in the ring.
Bottiglieri and George have a lived-in camaraderie that makes them believable as siblings, but their scenes in the gym and in the ring are detached from the rest of the movie. Off-putting humor — especially from George’s character — recurs through the film, though some like-minded viewers may find themselves laughing more than cringing.
But “Heels” means well with its heartwarming themes of family devotion and acceptance, weaving elements like foster families and homelessness into its plot. But all that sweetness is soured by casual sexism and culturally insensitive jokes, particularly at the expense of Jody and Ronnie’s Middle Eastern boss. Bottiglieri’s script clearly communicates its admiration for the men’s gay father (played with warmth by Richard Riehle), but that openness doesn’t always extend to other characters in the film.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Starts July 20, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood