Person to Person

person-to-person-rev Person to Person  (2017)    Magnolia/Comedy-Drama    RT: 84 minutes    No MPAA rating (thematic elements, language, some sexual content/references)    Director: Dustin Guy Defa    Screenplay: Dustin Guy Defa    Music: Ken Shipley and Chris Swanson (supervisors)    Cinematography: Ashley Connor    Release date: August 4, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III, Philip Baker Hall, Olivia Luccardi, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Michaela Watkins, Ben Rosenfeld, Buddy Duress, Eleonore Hendricks, Benny Safdie, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Okieriete Onaodowan, Brian Tyree Henry.

Rating:fullstar1fullstar1halfstar1star-empty1

 Person to Person looks like the kind of movie I ordinarily hate, one of those boring mumblecore indies about a group of annoying losers that talk a lot, say and do stupid things and screw up relationships. I’ve had it up to here with the likes of Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) and Andrew Bujalski (Results). If this summer’s Dean counts as mumblecore, I loathed that one too. Don’t even get me started on Donald Cried.

 person to personEven though I knew it was wrong, this is the mindset with which I approached Person to Person, a comedy-drama from writer-director Dustin Guy Defa, an expansion of his same-titled short film from 2014. Sometimes it’s hard to keep an open mind especially when you’re facing the prospect of having to endure a movie you’ll probably hate. I get no satisfaction from being right. I do, however, find it when I’m proven wrong as is the case with Person to Person. It’s so not what I thought it would be. Thank God for that.

 It’s actually a lot like Richard Linklater’s Slacker. It has the same aimless quality and so do the half-dozen or so characters it follows over the course of a single day. Newspaper editor Phil (Cera, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) trains his newest reporter Claire (Jacobson, Broad City) on her first day by following the case of a questionable suicide. The widow (Watkins, Enough Said) is acting rather suspiciously. There’s also some business about the victim’s watch. It’s at a timepiece repair shop run by Jimmy (Hall, Boogie Nights), a quiet sort who’d rather hang out with his cronies in his shop than deal with the cops and reporters that keep asking questions. Avid record collector Bene (Coopersmith) thinks he’s made the deal of a lifetime when he scores a rare John Coltrane album. When it turns out to be a fake, he tries to track down the crook who conned him. Bene’s depressed roommate Ray (Sample, Hunter Gatherer) is in hot water with his girlfriend (Blake) and her pissed-off brother (Henry) over embarrassing pictures he posted on-line as revenge for her infidelity.

 The most interesting plotline centers on Wendy (social media star Gevinson), a too-cool-for-school/too-smart-for-her-own-damn-good teen ditching school for the day with her bff Melanie (Luccardi, It Follows). She’s an angst ridden sort who never has anything nice to say about anybody or anything. At one point, Melanie says to her, “I detest the way you detest people” to which Wendy responds, “I know and I love you for it.” The day doesn’t turn out quite the way Wendy plans when Melanie invites her boyfriend over to make out.

 Shot on grainy 16mm film, Person to Person has a definite nostalgic quality to it. Although set in the present, it could just as easily take place in the 70s with two of the characters working for an actual newspaper and another’s affinity for vinyl records. One guy rides around on a bicycle. The movie also contains some rare, vintage R&B tunes which made me think of Car Wash (1976). Person to Person is a shaggy, low-key piece that doesn’t always work. It lacks story and character development in a few areas. I’m not a particular fan of Cera outside of Scott Pilgrim. He’s always seems to be playing the same dorky wimp. He’s wildly unconvincing as a newspaper editor who knows all the angles. The movie stumbles here and there but usually manages to regain its footing.

 In the end, Person to Person is all about a person’s desire to connect with somebody. Whether it’s Phil trying to impress Claire or Bene looking for a way to tell his girlfriend (Hendricks) how he feels about her or Wendy trying to connect with somebody... anybody, it’s the commonality among all the plotlines. The acting (other than Cera) is pretty good. Many of the players are non-professionals. The thief who cons Bene is played by Buddy Duress who played talkative drug dealer Mike in 2015’s Heaven Knows What. Coopersmith owns a record store in real life so he brings authenticity to his role. Watkins is underused as the widow who may or may not be a murderess. Hall brings quiet dignity to his role as the owner of a business not many people have use for anymore. As for Gevinson, this is a star-making performance. She’s a natural. I hope she decides to seriously pursue acting; she could be the next Winona Ryder.

 It has its flaws but Person to Person is a lot better than I expected it to be. It has its funny moments. One of my favorite running gags is Bene asking everybody he encounters what they think of his new shirt. It’s kind of loud; he’s used to being more understated. At 84 minutes, it doesn’t feel unnecessarily padded out. The dialogue, for the most part, is smart and witty. It’s a very casual, easy-going kind of flick, the polar opposite of the loud, clunky vehicles that dominate multiplexes during the hot months. I say give Person to Person a shot, it’s worth it. 

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