Written and Directed by: Dustin Guy Defa
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith
Self-examination and exploration are the way individuals hope to understand the reasons behind their motivations, desires, purpose, and personality. These are people analyzing life and the world, looking for the things that speak to them. Often these people are seeking objects, relationships, professions, or in some cases redemption to help define who they are. They use the external as a means to scrutinize the internal. PERSON TO PERSON uses a split narrative structure to study the lives New Yorkers who are all looking for something.
Benny (Coopersmith) is a record collector hunting down a rare Charlie Parker LP and an honest opinion of his shirt. Claire (Jacobson) is a rookie reporter looking for a paycheck under the tutelage of Phil (Cera), a pushy but sensitive reporter who looks for every opportunity he can to talk about his metal band. The Widow (Watkins) is trying to get a watch back that may play an important role in the uncovering the truth behind the questionable death of her late husband. Wendy (Gevinson) has been left alone with a boy while her best friend (Luccardi) makes out with her boyfriend.
If all these threads sound disjointed, it's because they are. Unlike most ensemble films PERSON TO PERSON only connects its characters thematically. There are no forced moments where our characters cross paths. The film is shot on super 16 mm film and features an impressive jazz soundtrack. Every aspect of this film is looking backward. The stylistic choices the film is built on are an extension of it's over arching theme. It wants to better understand where we are by examining where we've been.
When the film jumps from story to story it can be a bit jarring. The lack of connectivity forces the viewer to adjust between scenes and remind themselves of where we left off. That might seem like a negative but in fact is the films greatest strength. If the audience isn't invested in each story the jumping around wouldn't matter. We would look forward to leaving the characters behind with each passing scene. With few exceptions, the film is brilliantly cast as each character is given a moment to shine.
PERSON TO PERSON is a callback to the films of Altman and Allen but has enough individuality to feel like its own story. While it's set squarely in New York I never felt like Defa was fetishizing the city. Sometimes filmmakers are more in love with the cities they set their films than the characters who inhabit them. Defa clearly has a deep respect for characters and uses their residence as an extension of who they are. New York is a city in a perpetual state of self-examination that constantly borders on crisis, not unlike most of the individuals in Defa's film.
CA, West Los Angeles: Nuart Theatre
NY, New York: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
NY, New York: Metrograph
CA, Berkeley: Shattuck Cinemas 10
CA, San Francisco: Opera Plaza Cinemas 4
GA, Atlanta: Midtown Art Cinemas 8
MD, Baltimore: The Parkway
MO, Kansas City: Screenland Crossroads
PA, Philadelphia: Ritz at the Bourse
OH, Columbus: Gateway Film Center 8
OR, Eugene: David Minor Theater