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Romantic comedy 'Social Animals' bogs down in Austin hipster clichés

Romantic comedy 'Social Animals' bogs down in Austin hipster clichés
Josh Radnor and Noël Wells in the movie "Social Animals." (Paramount Home Media Distribution / Vertical Entertainment)

Much in the way that Cameron Crowe’s early ’90s Seattle-set “Singles” froze the grunge scene in rom-com amber, “Social Animals” is a time capsule of 20-teens Austin. Writer-director Theresa Bennett throws every hipster cliché at “Social Animals,” but it only serves to make the film feel dated.

The interminably cute Zoe (Noël Wells) lives in a pink two-tone trailer. She cuts her bangs in her front yard, brings a flask to baby showers and collects polaroid snapshots of the men she sleeps with. Her meet-cute with married video-store owner Paul (Josh Radnor) involves her lighting her skirt on fire with a joint, and their dates include taco tastings in a food truck park and outdoor screenings of ’80s comedies.

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Against this landscape, Bennett explores a group of friends stuck in the wrong relationships. Zoe’s all about sex without commitment, while her best friend is engaged to a philandering Republican. Paul and his wife, Jane (Aya Cash), are locked in a hellish stalemate of a marriage with three kids and no intimacy.

“Social Animals” is far darker than its colorful, exhibitionist exterior lets on. As the film builds to a climax, it swings wildly in tone, each scene feeling disconnected from the one before. Despite losing some narrative cohesiveness along the way, Bennett manages to steer the film to a happy, if somewhat unearned, ending.

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‘Social Animals’

Rated: R, for strong and crude sexual content, language, and drug use

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; AMC Orange

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