An edgier Richard Linklater for a less privileged generation, mumblecore helmer Frank V. Ross captures his characters’ dead-end disaffection not through stasis, but through nervous activity. Though mumblecore is generally associated with long pauses and slow drift, from its first image, “Audrey the Trainwreck” propels viewers into sensory overload — the camera freely roves over faces difficult to distinguish in the reddish gloom of a bar, while conversations overlap without beginning or end. Though still without distribution, “Audrey” reps the first of Ross’ five films to see theatrical release and an auspicious opener for Brooklyn’s new indie ReRun Gastropub Theater.
The film’s hero is forcefully singled out of the initially amorphous crowd by a dart that lodges painfully in his neck, a harbinger of things to come. The neck’s owner, Ron (Ross regular Anthony J. Baker), also owns the film’s perspective, defining its limited surroundings. Toiling at a job he won’t admit he hates (purchaser for an ATM company), Ron grows angrier as the pic progresses. Though his days vary little, he experiences them with a sense of anxiety (driven by John Medeski’s insistent jazz score), the camera recording his rushed routine from bed to shower to work to “leisure.”
Ron spends his spare time within his circle of workmates, lobbing comments across lunchrooms, volleyball courts or barroom tables. He barely tolerates his overly solicitous roommate, Scott (Danny Rhodes), whose open affection has obviously begun to wear thin. Throughout, writer-director Ross displays a fine ear for slightly off-kilter conversation and dialogue that sounds deceptively impromptu.
Ron sporadically meets with assorted Internet matchups in the same coffee shop, half-heartedly exchanging dating inanities. One girl, Stacy (Alexi Wasser), shows up more than once, her wry self-deprecation complementing Ron’s malaise. But when the camera suddenly shifts to Stacy’s p.o.v., following her daily rounds in her delivery truck (her work as solitary as Ron’s is collective), one fully grasps the significance of her otherness.
Ross has been prematurely compared to Robert Altman, doubtless due to his use of overlapping dialogue, large casts and sense of present-tense immediacy. But when Altman widened the field of the frame, he broadened the social perspective; in Ross’ films, the more people in the frame, the narrower the focus. Indeed, the specter of unfulfilled lives hangs over both main characters, who envision no options except eventual retirement or a vague college degree. Occasional images of loneliness strike key ominous chords: For Stacy, it’s the sight of a woman sitting alone in her apartment. For Ron, it’s the visualization of an anonymous partygoer that he hears about secondhand: a once-familiar female presence (Audrey?), now a shocking, drunken mess.
Yet the pic’s dominant tone is comic. When Scott blows a tire on the way to pick up Ron at the hospital (following Ron’s curtain-raising dart ordeal), onscreen text informs the viewer that, “Things come in threes.” Ross subsequently teases the viewer with arch “Final Destination”-style near-catastrophes (a sidestepped banana peel, a minor slip on a water bottle) before the final shoe drops — and it’s a doozy. Indeed, if the banana peel ploy seems somewhat forced in its nudge-wink jokiness, the pic’s ending explodes as a totally believable triumph of the unexpected — a hell of a way to end a movie.