The hegemony that the Judd Apatow stable currently holds over the slacker romantic comedy market makes it all the more appealing to watch this, a good-natured and at times genuinely touching film, whose characters and situations are much more three-dimensional and realistic than much of what American indie cinema has offered up recently.
Wilson, played by Scoot Mcnairy somewhere between Steve Buscemi and Jason Lee, is a budding screenwriter in his late-twenties who has moved to LA to be near the action. Unfortunately the plan has not entirely paid off; his script is still gathering dust rather than wowing the execs, leaving him predictably despondent. Desparate, and in need of a date for New Year’s Eve, he takes up his flatmates’ suggestion of advertising on the internet for a willing partner to see out the remaining hours of the year with, and to his surprise someone actually calls and arranges to meet him in the city. She is Vivian, a struggling actress whose small-town dreams of West Coast stardom seem to be going similarly awry. While he is glad to wallow in despondency, she on the other hand seems to cover up in an aloof rudeness, in particular to members of the opposite sex.
This rather odd pairing, in spite of or perhaps because of their outward differences, then begin to spend the day together, and begin to enjoy each other’s company more and more. The film is advertised as “from the producer of Before Sunset“, and there is a clear debt to the films of Richard Linklater here – our unlikely couple exchange thoughts on life and love, rather abrasively at first, and including some frank discussions of sex worthy of the best of Kevin Smith. What is particularly impressive is director Holdridge’s control of pacing and characterisation – drip feeding us enough information and insight to keep us wanting to know more, but never going overboard.
The film is shot in a hazy black-and-white, as most reviewers have pointed out, a montone reminiscent of Manhattan (1979), and like Woody Allen’s love for NYC there is clearly an affection on the director’s part for some of LA’s lesser-known areas on display – abandoned theatres, out-of-the-way restaurants and cafes, strange signs and little details that only a local’s keen eye would be familiar with. I dare say downtown Los Angeles has never looked so romantic, outside of the sheen of Hollywood boulevard and Rodeo Drive. In terms of comedic tone, there is a kinship with Chasing Amy (1997) and Clerks (1994), and I was also reminded of Julie Delpy’s underrated gem from last year, 2 Days in Paris (2007). And aside from its well-observed if sometimes crass humour, there is real pathos and sweetness here too, and depth of characterization.
On meeting Vivian for the first time, I considered her to be a little too ridiculously over-the-top, too stylised to seem real. But by the end of the film I had realised that this was intentional, just as our first meeting with Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall makes her seem at first overly kooky. Living in LA requires Vivian to put on a front, several faces to hide the real one underneath, adding to the fact that she spends most of her early screentime hiding behind large dark glasses. By by the end of the film we do get to glimpse the real Vivian, just as the camera has become intimate enough with our leading pair to indulge in close-up shots of their faces. And then we see in the monochrome cinematography their imperfections – dimples, hairs, spots – the blemishes which make them human, and real.