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You May Walk Unless You Find LA-Style Ennui Compelling
Given the screenplay was co-written by Lena Dunham, creator and breakout star of HBO's "Girls", I was hoping this 2012 indie relationship drama would resonate strongly like Lisa Cholodenko's acclaimed Los Angeles-set films ("Laurel Canyon", "The Kids Are All Right"), especially with such a smart cast of actors. However, something feels amiss in director Ry Russo-Young's coolish approach to a familiar story of adulterous deception and family dysfunction. The pacing feels glacial, and the characters are just not that involving emotionally. Perhaps that was the intention in showing the shallow nature of the lifestyle being portrayed, but it rubs off on the film's inertia leaving it feeling quite flat. The setting is LA's funky-chic Silver Lake neighborhood where sound engineer Peter lives with his psychotherapist wife Julie along with their young son and her teenaged daughter from a previous marriage, Kolt. They epitomize the laid-back, everything's-cool attitudes one associates with affluent Southern Californians.
Enter Martine, a New York acquaintance of Julie's college friend who happens to be an attractive 23-year-old experimental filmmaker. She has agreed to work as Peter's assistant in exchange for him helping out on her latest project, an arty video installation revolving around close- ups of ants. How Martine emotionally invades the family is the crux of the story, and to the credit of Russo-Young and Dunham, she never comes across as an unrepentant interloper like more commercially driven exploitative films have done in the past. It's just that the plot pretty much goes the way you would expect it would go from the outset, although the characters carry decidedly ambiguous natures that make some of the story turns feel more complex than they really need to be. For instance, the inevitable tryst between Martine and Peter lacks believable passion because it feels almost matter-of-fact. In hindsight, I feel like it should have been the driving force in pushing each character toward self-examination.
The cast is not really at fault here as the acting, for the most part, is sensitive and assured. Olivia Thirlby (the best friend in "Juno") provides the requisite gamine quality needed to make Martine credible as an object of obsession even if her character remains a cipher throughout. The always becalming Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married") delivers a thoughtful balancing act between earth mother and jealous wife as Julie. John Krasinski has a bit harder time escaping his amiable good-guy image from "The Office" and "Away We Go", but he does provide some surprisingly heated moments as Peter that make you wonder if he could do a greater variety of roles on screen. As the constantly yearning Kolt, India Ennenga appears to be channeling early Claire Danes, but she makes the character's unrequited love palpable. In smaller parts, Justin Kirk as a horned-up Hollywood screenwriter and Julie's attentive patient and Dylan McDermott as her self-possessed ex- husband bring much needed alpha energy to the proceedings. A late meltdown scene with Kolt's smarmy Italian tutor (Emanuele Secci) feels very out of place. Lethargic viewing.
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