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The melting pot movie, especially shot in New York City, is practically a sub-genre all its own, and with the likes of Woody Allen already given to basking the city in all kinds of glow, its seems nearly impossible there could be anything untapped left. Person to Person looks to change that with a collection of stories that sometimes intersect, often not, rarely being cohesive but rather a day-in-the-life sort of look into a few ordinary people eking out an existence in the big city.
As the day starts, it begins with Bene (Bene Coopersmith), a record collector, waking to a phone call that informs him a seller has a copy of a rare Charlie Parker record and so feels this could be a good day, even as he wears a new shirt that maybe isn’t right for him. It then cuts to Phil (Michael Cera), a nebbish reporter into heavy metal, training a new intern Claire (Abbi Jacobson) as he hops on the trail of a possible murder, the wife of the dead man Michaela Watkins, a stylish troublesome character who inspires curiosity. The investigation leads them to Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall), an old watch repairman who is quite comfortable passing the hours with pal (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Meanwhile, disillusioned high school student Wendy (Tavi Gevinson) spends the day with her best friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi) and Ray (George Sample III), staying with Bene, is depressed after doing something he greatly regrets.
Written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa, Person to Person is a quiet film about the hurdles of being human in modern times cutting back and forth between the stories in sporadic order, sometimes transitioning between them with overlap. It has a purposeful anthology feel to it and in many ways succeeds best when it is consumed as such with each a sort of small vignette on a theme. Despite the oddly detached quality of it all though, there is a kind of authenticity that rings through, mostly as it tries to capture the more daily routines of several lives taken in surprising directions, small as they are.
By no surprise, the wonderful Philip Baker Hall comes away with the most memorable turn in his brief moments on screen, the watchmaker character easily the most imposing and affecting, one that could and should be part of a larger story. Hall has long been one of cinema’s most gifted character actors and his presence here is genuinely the most impactful. Coopersmith is also very strong, setting the quirky tone from the start and having some fun with the ins and outs of his plot line. There really isn’t a bad performance per se, however Person to Person has a put off-ish-ness to it that feels as if it’s reaching for something only a few should ‘get’ with biting dialogue that often doesn’t convince, most notably between the teens who speak like 60s poets disseminating on society. The movie is shot on grainy film and has an old school feel to it, which gives it a nice style, but it also feels like it’s trying hard to make sure we notice. It’s all a flavor that will divide viewers, and while some will cling to the artiness of it, many might side against its pretension. A curious little experiment, it seems made for a small select audience.
Movie description: Person to Person is a 2017 drama that follows a variety of New York characters as they navigate personal relationships and unexpected problems over the course of one day.
Director(s): Dustin Guy Defa
Actor(s): Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson