VOD film review: Golden Exits
Script and direction8.5
Keegan DeWitt’s score8
Matthew Turner | On 22, Feb 2018
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Emily Browning, Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny, Analeigh Tipton
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“People never make films about ordinary people who don’t really do anything”. So says Emily Browning’s character in this exquisitely crafted indie drama from writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up, Philip, Queen of Earth) that, needless to say, turns out to be exactly what she’s described: a film about ordinary people not really doing anything. In a good way.
Browning plays Naomi, a 25-year-old Australian post-grad who’s come to Brooklyn on a work visa to assist married 40-something archivist Nick (former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz), as he catalogues the life’s work of his recently deceased father-in-law. Given that Nick and Naomi are going to be spending hours in a basement together every day, the young woman’s arrival causes immediate tension and suspicion for Nick’s psychoanalyst wife, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny), not least because her husband has already slipped up in that department once before, something her caustic sister, Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker), is only too happy to point out.
However, Naomi has her sights set elsewhere and tracks down music producer Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), a distant family friend she has fond memories of from a previous trip when she was a child. Buddy, in turn, is married to his own former assistant, Jess (Analeigh Tipton), and is distinctly unsettled by Naomi’s advances, having only agreed to meet her as a favour to his mother.
There are further connections between the two families – Jess’ sister, Sam (Lily Rabe), works as Gwen’s assistant, Buddy has a friend who knows Nick – but the characters are primarily joined by a connective thread of unhappiness, and Ross Perry’s script picks over that thread in fascinating fashion, leaving the air thick with a pervasive sense of desire and disappointment. Intriguingly, the film continually resists the expectations of the set-up – these are, indeed, characters who really don’t do anything – which creates a tension of its own; these are articulate people who give voice to their frustrations, but do nothing to alleviate them.
As with his previous films, Ross Perry doesn’t make his characters easy to like. These are not whip-smart Brooklynites swapping Woody Allen-style one-liners, but layered, complex people whose collective, deep-seated unhappiness is genuinely affecting. With its assortment of older men lusting after a much younger woman (Nick’s boorish friend is also immediately smitten), the film risks becoming uncomfortably topical, but it’s not that film at all, with the script skilfully ensuring that scenes never quite play out the way you expect.
The performances are exceptional. Browning delivers her best work since 2011’s Sleeping Beauty, investing Naomi with hidden depths, acutely aware of both her power and her own weaknesses. Horowitz, in turn, proves an inspired choice for Nick, somehow managing to be both charming and pitiful at the same time, and the subtle shifts in his relationship with Browning’s character are beautifully observed.
Schwartzman, in particular, is cleverly cast, as your expectations are not high for his character (perhaps because of his markedly obnoxious turn in Listen Up Philip) and just when you think you’ve got him figured out, he surprises you. Similarly, Ross Perry makes great use of Sevigny’s impassive face (particularly during a moment where she zones out during a psychoanalysis session), while Mary-Louise Parker steals every scene she’s in as bitter, jaded Gwen, and nabs all the film’s best lines while she’s at it.
The film is topped off by Sean Price Williams grainy, textured 16mm cinematography, which gives everything a beguiling, golden glow, and a sublime score from Keegan DeWitt that’s practically a character in its own right. This is a treat. Don’t miss it.