Mercury in Retrograde (2017)
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The film was packaged with a beautifully painted movie poster and artistic lettering. This was not that kind of movie, either. The Gene Siskel page for Mercury in Retrograde features a still of Alana Arenas, a talented Steppenwolf actress. This was misleading, as she was the only non-white cast member in the film.
This was that kind of movie...
Mercury in Retrograde opens with the main female lead, Peggy, reading everyone their horoscopes from the paper. The scene continues into Peggy's voiceover, continuing the storybook-style line delivery from the opener. (This is the only voiceover of the film). A shot of Chicago gives us a thrill before we see Isabelle, the walking French stereotype of the film (literally costumed in a black and white striped shirt), exiting her apartment in a private elevator. How much does she pay in rent? I can barely afford in-unit washing as an amenity, I'd love to know where all the in-unit elevator apartments exist in Chicago.
The saving grace of the film are Golda and Jack - played by Alana Arenas and Jack Newell, who put in Herculean efforts to inject personality into the abjectly flat writing. Miraculously, they manage to to turn a pedagogical reflection on Plato into teasing banter, before Golda has to tell Jack she loves him too - goodnight!
Jack Newell is actually instantly recognizable from his screentime on Easy, playing a similar lackadaisical, quick-witted character. Maybe I should preface this by saying that if you enjoy watching Easy because you relate to the general concerns of well-to-do white 20 to 30 somethings from Chicago, you might enjoy this film. The character's dramas - Golda disapproves of Isabelle's boyfriend... awkward! and their thrills - a game of frisbee-golf - are hard to relate to. More so, the lack of self-awareness is cringe-worthy. Though the cinematography bears out, the editing ends up trying to unsuccessfully compensate for the listlessness of the plot by cross-cutting at points between the "gals" and "gents" hangouts.
There is, of course, the turning point of the film - a turning point that comes in an hour and 25 minutes in. The disturbing livid details of Peggy's traumatic past come pouring out in a sharp contrast to the past hour of yoga in the forest, book club cigars, and beach kissing, and serve less to drive the film to a conclusion than it does to sour it further.
The only reason this rant of a review exists is because I've found nothing but glowing reviews of Michael Glover Smith's work online. I understand that we want to sing praises for a local act. I just don't want anyone else to lose an hour plus of their lives watching this hometown gem. Chicago deserves better.