“Not even the movies are like the movies any more,” observes a character in “Izzy Gets the F— Across Town,” a restless, roughshod woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown comedy that sets out to prove precisely that point — ducking and diving to dodge tidy character arcs and simple happy endings. At once freewheeling and missing a couple of wheels, Christian Papierniak’s shoestring debut is likeably sketchy in all senses of the word, skipping through eccentric episodes as its hot-mess protagonist traverses Los Angeles in desperate pursuit of her ex and, more to the point, herself. It’s uneven practically by design, with a tone that slides all the way from kooky farce to anguished psychological study, just about held together by Mackenzie Davis’s lively, spiky turn in the lead. A host of noteworthy names in fleeting support will attract further eyeballs to Izzy’s journey, as she crosses (with fewer complications this time) from theaters to VOD screens.
This kind of scuzzy, wing-and-a-prayer indie isn’t necessarily the kind of first feature you’d expect from a filmmaker schooled in the world of video games: It’s certainly worlds removed from Papierniak’s work on the blockbuster “NBA 2K” franchise. Yet the longer you ride with “Izzy Gets the F— Across Town” — the title of which is uncensored on screen — the more its writer-director’s background makes sense. After presenting its moonlighting musician protagonist with a particular mission and destination, “Izzy” proceeds a bit like a very lo-tech, linear video game, only with peculiar human foibles as its challenges and obstacles, as our heroine faces one potential enabler or saboteur after another in the course of a hectic day in L.A. Said mission: winning back her ex-boyfriend Roger (Alex Russell) at his engagement party in Los Feliz. It’s not exactly a matter of life, death and mortal kombat, but in its best interludes, Papierniak’s film persuasively plunges us into the mindset of a woman too life-worn and broken-hearted to make that distinction.
Elsewhere, the film’s more affectedly quirky impulses have a distancing effect. Papierniak risks losing his audience right off the bat with an ill-advised introductory dream sequence, tricked out with split screens and a lilac filter, which sees Izzy dazedly talking through her history with Roger with (why not?) a cameoing Dolly Wells.
Popular on Variety
Things improve markedly when we wake with a hung-over Izzy into the real world, attempting to work out how she landed in the bed of a handsome, equally bewildered stranger (Keith Stanfield), her cater-waiter tuxedo rumpled and bloodied. Answers aren’t exactly forthcoming, but she’s more concerned with the immediate future anyway, once Instagram tips her off about Roger’s impending celebration that evening. She resolves to go, but that’s easier said than done for a girl with no car, no money and no idea where the hell she is to begin with.
Cue a chain-linked series of encounters with friends, family, enemies and strangers — those divisions can overlap — as Izzy tries to wheedle, bully or straight-up beg her way across town, all the while dropping clues as to just how her life has reached this nadir. Not an immediately sympathetic or even wholly believable trainwreck (why does she endure this entire ordeal with an unclasped bow-tie dangling from her neck?), she’s made credible by Davis’s sharp, hungry conviction in the part, shifting from an easy punchline to a complex human timebomb in the process.
Among her carousel of scene partners, some get more to work with than others: Alia Shawkat, amusing as ever, is too quickly discarded as a ride-giver even less together than Izzy is, while Annie Potts gets a sweetly loopy episode as a kindly stranger with her own history of romantic disappointment. The superb Carrie Coon comes off best as Izzy’s dourly cleaned-up sister and former musical partner; their joint baggage, expressively hinted at through a strong, bittersweet duet on Heavens to Betsy’s “Axemen,” could well have been the focus of a different film.
Papierniak and his editors (including Zach Clark, a singular indie storyteller in his own right) keep proceedings trucking along at an antic rhythm suited to their heroine’s scattered state of mind: Where it’s heading is never precisely clear, beyond the sense that it’s not to a point of clarity. Though it’s divided into multiple chapters, all could fit under the fourth segment titled “Random F—ing Chaos”: A loose running debate in the film pitches fate versus happenstance as a determiner of events, though Papierniak’s happily heedless script winds up splitting the difference. At one point, rekindling a relationship is described as being like “watching your favorite movie over again — going over all your favorite scenes because you know how it’s going to end.” Whether or not it winds up as anyone’s favorite movie, “Izzy Gets the F— Across Town” aims for that kind of unhurried hangout value.