×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Person to Person’

Dustin Guy Defa's feature traces the anecdotally comic doings of a few everyday eccentrics on one Big Apple day.

With:
Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III, Philip Baker Hall, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Michaela Watkins, Olivia Luccardi, Ben Rosenfield, Buddy Duress, Eleonore Hendricks, Benny Safdie, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Okieriete Onandowan, Brian Tyree Henry, Steve Urbanski, Craig Butta, Dakota O'Hara, David Zellner.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5247026/

In the 1960s and ’70s, a fair number of now little-remembered American independent films were cute seriocomedies about the “little people” of the big city (usually the Big Apple). Descended from the populist writings of William Saroyan and Herb Gardner, they were full of moderately eccentric (and/or “ethnic”) behavior, humorous yelling, and the occasional windy speech celebrating the funny-sad struggles of being a yooman beink. You might think nobody misses these movies — certainly no one revives them — but apparently Dustin Guy Defa does. He must: He’s gone to the trouble of making a new one, even shooting on 16mm for extra retro ambiance.

Person to Person” seems to be set in the here and now. It would clearly prefer otherwise, however, given the lengths gone to ensure that characters barely seem to know how the internet works, or center their lives around attaining rare vintage LPs. Nostalgia is one thing, but Defa’s feature itself is an example of reprising things about the past that didn’t particularly work. Mildly amusing, a tad amateurish in some aspects, this little ensemble piece about funny little people is ultimately just too damn little.

There was a similar air of inconsequentiality to the writer-director’s prior feature, 2011’s “Bad Fever.” (He’s also made several well-received shorts.) But that film flirted with darker ideas in its loose narrative of a young loser adrift in Defa’s hometown of Salt Lake City. “Person” aims for a familiar brand of shaggy-comedy-with-pathos that has very little edge, even in the strand that involves a possible murder.

Over the course of one fair-weather day in Manhattan, various characters go about their business, most consisting of various forms of hanging out. Newspaper reporter Phil (Michael Cera), who sidelines in a metal band, breaks in nervous and awkward new investigative trainee Claire (Abbi Jacobson). They end up chasing leads on a suspicious death case — maybe suicide, maybe homicide — that comes to hinge upon the victim’s broken watch, which his widow (Michaela Watkins) has left with a venerable timepiece repairman (Philip Baker Hall).

Meanwhile, fortyish dude-of-no-clear-profession Benny (Bene Coopersmith) is tipped to the availability of a valuable Charlie Parker recording on red vinyl, which he’s eager to purchase. But the transaction turns out to be a scam, leading to a bicycle pursuit betwixt angry customer and con artist (Buddy Duress). Having a rough day of his own is Benny’s temporary roommate Ray (George Semple III), who’s couch-crashing after breaking up with his girlfriend (Marsha Stephanie Blake). Having discovered her infidelity, he retaliated by posting some nude pics online; now she is mortified, and her musclebound brother is looking to teach him a lesson.

Representing the youth of today is perpetually mopey teen Wendy (Tavi Gevinson), who persuades best friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi) to skip school yet again. Granted this free time, Melanie is mostly interested in making out as usual with her boyfriend (Hunter Zimny), while Wendy — who’s theoretically bi, but so far only lesbian in practice — grouses about being left alone with his friend (Ben Rosenfield), then having to sort out feeling actually kinda attracted to him.

Unlike most ensemble comedies of its nature, “Person to Person’s” story threads don’t really intersect, each puttering along amiably if forgettably until they reach some modest resolution. While some thesps (notably Cera and everyone else in the watch segment) manage to eke some wry fun out of the very mild, anecdotal screenplay, others strain a bit to pull off the whimsical, stylized naturalism this frail material needs. Too many of the jokes are limp on arrival (such as a running gag involving Benny’s worry whether a loud new shirt he’s wearing is right for him), and only a few of the performers here are skilled enough to make such weak stuff play better than it is.

At its worst, “Person to Person” remains an innocuous diversion. Trouble is, at its best it’s pretty much the same thing. Even if she may be echoing the grainy, natural-lighting style of an early “indie” era, the look of Ashley Connor’s Super-16 lensing is still nondescript. For a movie that ought to be steeped in authentic New York City atmosphere, Defa’s feature gets way too much of what texture it has from a soundtrack of retro R&B and jazz obscurities of the type that Benny is presumably an authority on.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Person to Person'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 20, 2017. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: A Forager Films and Bow and Arrow production, in association with Sailor Bear and Park Pictures. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Producers: Sarah Murphy, Toby Halbrooks, James Johnston. Executive producers: Allison Carter, Jonathan Read. Executive producers, Joe Swanberg, Eddie Linker, Peter Gilbert, Michael Sherman, Matthew Perniciano, David Lowery.

Crew: Director, writer: Dustin Guy Defa. Camera (color, Super 16-to-HD): Ashley Connor. Editor: Defa. Music: Daniel Schlett.

With: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III, Philip Baker Hall, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Michaela Watkins, Olivia Luccardi, Ben Rosenfield, Buddy Duress, Eleonore Hendricks, Benny Safdie, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Okieriete Onandowan, Brian Tyree Henry, Steve Urbanski, Craig Butta, Dakota O'Hara, David Zellner.

More Film

  • Love You Forever

    'Love You Forever' Heads for Valentine's Day Release

    Hong Kong’s Edko Films has set a February 2020 release for upcoming romantic drama “Love You Forever.” The film is directed by Yao Tingting, who previously made another nostalgic romance “Yesterday Once More,” which went on to enjoy a $27 million global success in 2016. Edko’s Bill Kong is named as producer. The new film [...]

  • The Irishman

    Film News Roundup: 'The Irishman' Wins Capri Film Festival Screenplay Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Steven Zaillian’s script for “The Irishman” wins an award, MGM hires a trio of marketing execs, MTV Documentary Films sets three new projects; and “The Caretaker of Lorne Field” is becoming a movie. AWARDS Steven Zaillian’s screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” will receive the best original screenplay award at [...]

  • Saturday Fiction

    'Saturday Fiction' Yanked From China's Golden Rooster Film Festival on Eve of Debut

    Just a day before its scheduled China debut, director Lou Ye’s latest film, “Saturday Fiction,” has been pulled from its slot as the opener of the mainland’s Golden Rooster Film Festival because of unspecified “internal production problems,” according to Chinese film website Mtime. Speculation has been spreading online that it will also be yanked from [...]

  • DeVon Franklin

    DeVon Franklin Signs First-Look Deal at Paramount Pictures

    DeVon Franklin has signed a first-look producing deal at Paramount Pictures. Under his Franklin Entertainment banner, Franklin previously produced inspirational and faith-based films, including this year’s “Breakthrough,” starring Chrissy Metz, as well as “Miracles From Heaven,” with Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, and the animated film “The Star,” toplined by Zachary Levi, Gina Rodriguez, Oprah [...]

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    'Harriet' Costume Designer Paul Tazewell on How He Crafted Harriet Tubman's Look

    For many, Harriet Tubman’s journey is one we’re taught about in school. We know she’s a heroine, an abolitionist who led slaves to their freedom via the underground railroad. Unless you’ve read the books by Kate Clifford Larson or Beverly Lowry, “We didn’t receive the whole story,” says costume designer Paul Tazewell. Until now. Kasi [...]

  • Viacom HQ LA

    ViacomCBS Sets HR and Inclusion Chiefs

    ViacomCBS has named corporate heads of HR and inclusion as the companies prepare for the merger that is set to close early next month. The soon-to-combine Viacom and CBS have tapped Nielsen alum Nancy Phillips to serve as exec VP and chief people officer. Viacom alum Marva Smalls will serve as global head of inclusion, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content