Training Wheels (Sundance)

By Alison Rich | Romance
An awkward woman rents a man to practice for her dream guy.

Enid is browsing through her available options on a site for "discount elite male companionship." She selects a man named Ricky Mountain, who enjoys "working" with ladies who are introverted or socially inept" -- which makes him perfect for Enid.

Struggling himself for clients with the arrival of a new, hot escort, Ricky is excited about his booking. But when he arrives, he soon discovers that the inexperienced Enid has a particularly unique situation. She has met the man of her dreams, but she needs to "practice" having a relationship before her first date -- and Ricky will be her "training wheels."

Written and directed with great wit and heart by Alison Rich (who also plays Enid), this short romantic comedy has dialogue with plenty of zing and a slightly heightened cleverness, packed with pop culture references and good-natured snark. But it also knows when to relax into real moments of emotional vulnerability, especially as Enid navigates her insecurities and inadequacies around dating, with the help of a seemingly dim-witted but warmhearted escort.

Enid's desire to play out a relationship trajectory has a comic self-awareness about the expectations we put around love, and it allows the excellent writing to poke fun at how romance has become a checklist of Insta-moments. Enacting an entire relationship in a few days also gives the film a natural rhythm and propulsiveness that pulls viewers along, and gives the two main characters a chance to truly get to know one another, even while "play-acting" out the relationship.

Actor George Basil as Ricky has an affable demeanor and a warm daffiness that's eager to please, but he also hints at genuine vulnerability under the laidback affect. He plays well off Rich, who gives voice to Enid's frustration that she can't quite figure out the dating game. It's a truly vulnerable moment that is not just relatable but brings out a genuine connection between her and Ricky. By the time Enid is about to go on her "real" date, she's more confident in herself -- which just might change her ideas of "the one" in the first place.

A premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Training Wheels" is a frankly adorable film, with a charming, goofy vibe and quicksilver wit. Viewers may be initially taken with the rapid-fire wordplay and the good-natured humor, but the film ultimately resonates because of its warmth and generosity of spirit, both towards its eccentric, lovable characters and also the whole notion of being an imperfect human trying to love and be loved. Love and romance too often demand a veneer of shine and perfection. But when Enid discovers she can be truly herself, she's able to experience genuine care and regard from someone. The ending of the film doesn't spell out what her and Ricky's final fate are. But the lovely companionship, respect, and affection they find with one another is a reward in and of itself.

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