Illustrating Stephen Stills’ maxim “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with,” Tennessee mumblecore helmer Kentucker Audley’s third feature, “Open Five,” explores the frailty of romantic relationships and the strength of open-endedness on a double-date tour of Memphis. A filmmaker (Audley) and a musician (co-writer Jake Rabinbach) squire two visiting Brooklyn actresses around their hometown, hitting high spots and low. More focused than many of its brethren, “Five” opens Nov. 26 and reps another worthy theatrical preem for Gotham’s ReRun Gastropub Theater, fast becoming the NXNE launchpad for minimalist SXSW-type fare.
Pic opens with a nighttime cuddle on a Gotham fire escape. Jake (Rabinbach) invites new g.f. Lucy (Shannon Esper) to join him at his home in Memphis, assuring her that his former g.f. (Amy Seimetz) will have moved out before she arrives. Lucy does indeed come to visit, but accompanied by her best friend, Rose (Genevieve Angelson), which considerably alters Jake’s imagined scenario.
It quickly becomes apparent that Lucy is hiding something, investing the genre’s usual awkward pauses with palpable narrative tension. She eventually admits she met someone in New York and is unwilling to enter into a long-distance relationship with Jake, though they eventually relax back into friendly sex. Rose, meanwhile, has hooked up with Jake’s pal Kentucker (Audley), and the four set out to see the sights, from cozy little dives to gospel-rocking churches to tourist-jammed Graceland, music providing the thematic thread.
If “Open Five” is about something other than hanging out in Memphis, it’s long-term commitment. Given the ease with which Jake and Lucy slide in and out of romantic couplings, the question is less whether they can sustain lasting relationships than whether any projected future is even feasible. The strength of the film is that director Audley, together with lenser Joe Swanberg (a venerable mumblecore helmer himself), poses the conundrum less through dialogue than in purely visual terms; closeups of lovers fully invested in each other are juxtaposed with amorphous long shots (i.e., Jake and his dog desultorily meandering through the countryside). Characters’ connections with their surroundings shift constantly — their ability to go with the flow, latching onto each other along the way, becomes less a moral choice than an organic response.
Thesping is faultless, particularly on the part of the women, with Angelson enormously appealing in her expanded sidekick role. Rabinbach, falling back on his real-life musical skills, fares better than taciturn Audley, whose work as filmmaker is never brought up in the story.
Assured tech credits belie the pic’s budget, reportedly less than $20,000.