SXSW 2017: “Person to Person” Review

This is a beautiful looking film.  And I do mean film, since it was shot on 16mm.  Set in New York, in modern time, it captures the essence of the city, but only if it was supposed to be set in 1980.  The contrasting look of today, with a style of years ago, does not do the story any favors.

Photo credit: Ashley Connor

The story itself, was not one-but three-unrelated vignettes.  While I have seen this plot breakdown work before, here it just leaves you asking “why?”  Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson play crime scene reporters investigating a possible murder.  I enjoyed both of their performances as awkward co-workers.  Comedy in the most serious segment leaves you without any emotional attachment to the characters, however.  Bene Coopersmith, a newcomer and friend of the director, has some talent and I look forward to seeing him again in other roles.  He plays a record collector who gets scammed purchasing a rare Charlie Parker album.  The best part of his storyline involves a bike chase through the city.  Once again, it is comedy that disrupts the flow of any emotional investment into his character.  The third plot revolves around two high school girls who skip school, make out with boys and play with their phones too much.  This segment should leave open the possibility of comedy, but ends tragically.  If it was the filmmaker’s goal to make you watch total contradictions, he succeeded.  In terms or making a film that was interesting, he failed miserably.

The saving grace of sitting through this for an hour and a half was the soundtrack.  With one plot point being about a Charlie Parker album, you are treated to some high quality jazz.  The transition through scenes is accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar.  It actually sounded great and eased the jumping back and forth between unrelated disjointed scenes.  Even some of the songs played by the young girls set the scene and tone for their situations.  The strong performance of Tavi Gevinson as the less vapid of the two girls also makes their plot bearable.  Other performances made you wish scenes would end quicker than they did.  Philip Baker Hall is a fantastic actor whose talents were wasted in a nothing role that was never expanded.  Again, Bene Coopersmith did a fantastic job with his part, but the “happy” ending of his storyline of getting the girl and having a party was anticlimactic.  At this point, you are just glad it is ending.  

If you love the fact that people still make movies on film, then see this movie.  If you are from New York and love to see images of your city, then see this film.  If you don’t care about story at all and can sit through a movie with a good soundtrack, then see this film.  If you want to relate to characters and enjoy getting swept up in a good story, you’ll want to skip this one.

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Update: Magnolia Pictures obtained the rights to distribute the film and will be released July 28, 2017. 

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