NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2017 - DUSTIN GUY DEFA: PERSON TO PERSON (2017)MICHAEL CERA, ABBI JACOBSON IN PERSON TO PERSONSeveral short films don't make a long film
This seems like an odd corruption of Mumblecore: the same kind of minor topics and low-keyed acting - but no mumbling. And strangely, we miss that, because Mummblecore's quirky naturalism is lacking, really, and the plots are artificially crisp and neatly resolved, if not particularly interesting. Philip Baker Hall, Abbi Jacobson and Michael Cera add recognizable faces.
The main plots, if you can call them that, are a possible murder covered by two New York Post
reporters, or a reporter with a camera (Michael Cera) and an intern (Abbi Jacobson) who he's hoping to date as a result of impressing her; and a vinyl record scam suffered by a guy (Bene Coopersmith) who thinks he's found a rare Charlie Parker disc but discovers it's a reprint with a fake label. A subplot offshoot is Bene's depressed black friend who has fatally alienated his girlfriend by posting nude shots of her on Facebook as revenge for her sleeping with another guy. The possible murder was reported as a suicide by the dead person's wife. She has taken her husband's wrist watch to be repaired. Philip Baker Hall is the watch repairman, who refuses to speak to police or to the journalists.
It must be admitted that Defa has exercised a certain amount of ingenuity in constructing and resolving these stories. But while their separate unreeling alternates through the film, the journalists' story and the vinyl record scam story do not connect, except everything takes place in New York City.
I almost forgot my favorite character, Wendy (Tavi Gevinson), a preternaturally articulate young woman with a prettier, more outgoing best friend. Wendy may be a lesbian, or has simply not tried men, though she starts trying in one scene. Gevinson is the opposite extreme from Mumblcore (though actors in Mumblecore weren't really so inarticulate, very often, as the name implied): she talks like an earnest, punkish version of a Jane Austen character - or someone in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan
. If only everyone talked like her, we could dispense with all this running around, which in the case of Bene is carried to an untoward extreme. Bene chases and beats up the man who cheated him, and dresses down the record dealer who said this man was probably okay. This story line, of two young women, the boyfriend of one, and the boy who might like to become Wendy's boyfriend, is reasonable material for a rom-com. Perhaps that could be incorporated with the lovelorn Facebook poster's débâcle.
The murder story probably is beyond the filmmaker's powers to develop on a full scale.
The vinyl record scam is too trivial for anything but a short film. Defa is moving up from shorts to a feature film here, not with total success. Each subplot is handled with adequate detail, but the combination is underwhelming.
Reviewed in Hollywood Reporter
by John DeFore in the Next section of Sundance, and at the same screening by Dennis Harvey for Variety
. Both acknowledged Defa's evocation of indie films of an earlier time. DeFore seemed to find the effort appealing, its use of Kodak film the equivalent to the story's implied celebration of the "warmer" sound of the older technology of vinyl records. But Harvey found the film not just small scale but "just too damned little," and a "familiar brand of shaggy-comedy-with-pathos that has very little edge." This is true. Defa takes up our time with these details and provides no overriding takeaway. (By the way, Defa has done a lot of acting and is very appealing in that role, as is shown in his performance as the TV producer in Caveh Zahedi's new feature about a TV series, The Show About the Show
.) Person to Person
, 84 mins. was screened for this review as part of the 2017 iteration of the FSLC-MoMA series New Directors/New Films, for which it was selected to be the Closing Night Film.