Melbourne 2017 Review: PERSON TO PERSON, A Wonderfully Expansive New York Narrative
Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson lead Dustin Guy Defa's new ensemble piece, set in New York City.
Expanded from the quirky short of the same name, Person to Person is an effortless riff on a specific indie vibe.
Crafted lovingly and naturally by director Dustin Guy Defa, Person to Person moves from his initial concept, following the quest of hippie record collector Bene (Bene Coopersmith) to purchase a rare LP, to other characters who occupy the screen as their small dramas play out over a brisk autumnal day.
These other New Yorkers include Phil (Michael Cera) and Claire (Abbi Jacobson), an investigative journalist boss and first-time reporter, respectively. The powerplay, awkwardness and anxiety between them plays out with surprisingly varied results as they piece together a potential murder.
Most of their banter takes place in Phil’s car, where he mansplains and tries to impress the meek Claire by exclaiming the horrible noise she hears is his band, Cock- something. There are moments where Phil’s death metal lyricism is funny and others where it borders on harassment as Claire swallows her discomfort. Both varieties of the scene play out brilliantly and allow quick insight into these people as we sporadically return to them.
The film also drops in on a few other characters, including Paul Thomas Anderson favourite Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia), the grouchy owner of a watch repair shop who converses with Buster (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Both get drawn into the aforementioned murder mystery. Bene also returns, ready to buy that LP from a hot-tip he received from his friend. His story branches off to focus on sappy, defeated flatmate Ray (George Sample III), who is easy to dislike once its revealed what he did to his ex-girlfriend. However, this small story of redemption plays out more entertainingly then the graveness of his action implies.
Although the film is peppered with characters and potential tales, the last thread that sticks out is that of Wendy (Tavi Gevinson) and her teenage sexual malaise. Gevinson is impressive as she portrays a confused, opinionated young woman crushing on her straight friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi), with an understated frustration and irritation that is easily the best performance in Person to Person.
Some of the characters discussed follow a loose narrative thread, but there is no deus ex machina or special significance for why they cross paths. Although a few of them do, the focus is on the conversations they have and how they have them. Whether characters are in the streets, the detailed interiors of a shop, or Central Park, New York is beautifully captured with an unassuming lens, usually accompanied with some catchy jazz.
Person to Person also wears its hip influences of Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen and others well, yet feels like a classic; less of an homage, it is set in the modern day, but tonally the film travels back in time, echoing sentiments of a free-spirited, gonzo, beatnik New York in full control of the time the characters have. The day plays out to the late afternoon and by then they have grown (not all of them) or changed in an understated but irrevocable way.
Person to Person perfectly demonstrates the personal values these provocative characters have. It is this enduring essential element that results in it being one of those rare viewing experiences you are sad to see end.