×

The Color Wheel

Hard to swallow but impossible to ignore, this nihilistic comedy may emerge as a cult touchstone.

With:
With: Carlen Altman, Alex Ross Perry, Bob Byington, Kate Lyn Sheil, Anna Bak-Kvapil, Ry Russo-Young.

Alex Ross Perry’s black-and-white “Color Wheel” takes the downside of mumblecore — its tendency to force auds to spend less-than-quality time with people they would otherwise take pains to avoid — and deliberately thrusts it centerstage. Perry’s antiheroine, JR (Carlen Altman), a shallow, self-centered, mean-spirited, none-too-bright aspiring newscaster, has consistently alienated everyone around her, especially her immediate family. Nevertheless, she manages to browbeat sad-sack brother Colin (Perry) into accompanying her on a road trip through a negatively charged Americana. Hard to swallow but impossible to ignore, this nihilistic comedy may emerge as a cult touchstone.

JR and Colin bicker during their drive to pick up JR’s things from the journalism prof (Bob Byington) whom she had briefly shacked up with. The siblings’ barbed insults take on the rhythm of a familiar refrain (Perry and Altman co-scripted), their long association having taught them the most hurtful buttons to push. If their shared disaffection sometimes bonds them against others (like the Christian fundamentalist motel owner who doubts they’re brother and sister), they are just as liable to throw each other to the dogs. In either case, their caustic byplay is the closest either ever comes to a balanced exchange.

In every other interpersonal interaction, they come off as completely out of synch, unable (in the case of JR) or unwilling (in the case of Colin) to assume the expected social certitudes and platitudes that would gain them acceptance. At a party in their old hometown, JR’s pathetic, self-deluded stabs at sophistication and Colin’s self-fulfilling prophecies of failure practically invite humiliation, begging the question of which is worse, ignorance or cowardice.

Neither JR nor Colin undergoes any pat learning experience during their uncomfortably absurd travels. Salvation, or at least a modicum of authenticity, is achieved not through personal growth or change, but through mental disintegration. In an astonishing, rambling nine-minute monologue delivered in closeup (a more profound version of a similar scene in Perry’s debut, “Impolex”), JR’s ludicrous self-image slowly crumbles bit by bit, briefly revealing a vulnerability as touching as it is probably temporary. But this comes at a price, as family unity takes the form of a shocking transgression.

Sean Price Williams’ grainy, monochrome 16mm camerawork imparts a bleak beauty to the unrelieved sameness of the siblings’ odyssey and lends particular potency to the rug-pulling finale. Consistent with the mumblecore tradition of directors casting themselves and each other as actors in their movies, “Wheel” boasts helmers Byington (“Harmony and Me”) and Ry Russo-Young (“You Won’t Miss Me”) in supporting roles, adding their particular brands of nastiness to the background characters’ spiritual vapidity.

The Color Wheel

Production: A Dorset Films production. Produced by Alex Ross Perry. Co-producer, Bob Byington. Directed, edited by Alex Ross Perry. Written by Perry, Carlen Altman.

Crew: Camera (B&W, 16mm-to-HD), Sean Price Williams; music, Preston Spurlock; production designer, Anna Bak-Kvapil; sound, Adam Grass, John Bosch. Reviewed at BAM Cinemafest, June 19, 2011. Running time: 83 MIN.

With: With: Carlen Altman, Alex Ross Perry, Bob Byington, Kate Lyn Sheil, Anna Bak-Kvapil, Ry Russo-Young.

More Film

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    LGBTQ Groups Backing SAG-AFTRA in Member Privacy Fight Against IMDb

    SAG-AFTRA has announced that a coalition of national LGBTQ groups is backing the union in its fight for member privacy against IMDb. The groups include the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group; GLAAD; the Transgender Law Center; the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Transcend Legal, Inc.; and Equality Federation. [...]

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and hailed [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Earns

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content