Starring Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry. Unrated. Plays Friday, Sunday, and Monday, October 26, 28, and 29, at the Pacific Cinémathèque
If you’ve seen any of the no-budget slice-of-twentysomething-life items they call mumblecore, you’ll find The Color Wheel a step up in style and, maybe, ambition. It’s shot on black-and-white 16mm, with the grainy PixelVision look of Richard Linklater’s generation-summing Slacker, which doesn’t stop director Alex Ross Perry from adding 1970s typography and Philly soul songs to give it that faux–Mary Tyler Moore Show feel.
The resident Mary here, played by dark-eyed Carlen Altman, is called J R, and things centre on a trip she takes with younger brother Colin. He is played by Perry, who wrote, or at least improvised, the dialogue with Altman (and whose sarcastic delivery owes a lot to the breathy desperation of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill). They obviously despise each other, and it’s not clear what the whiny Colin is supposed to bring to her trip from Philadelphia to Boston, where she’s picking up a few things from the college-professor ex (fellow indie director Bob Byington) who kicked out the petulant, self-absorbed brat. How obnoxious is she? Let’s put it this way: J R wasn’t invited to an aunt’s funeral because her family feared she’d “be a downer”.
They were right, but most people the siblings meet seem even crueller than they are. This might be the world as seen by two frightened, unformed children. She dreams of being an anchorwoman and he wants to be a writer, jobs borrowed from dozens of rom-coms. And everyone seems to be older or younger than their parts suggest. I’d say that this Mr. Dressup approach is part of the film’s charm, except that it has so little interest in charming the audience.
The stark Color Wheel is often maddening in its indifference to, or mockery of, storytelling norms. So why does it feel so real?
Watch the trailer for The Color Wheel.