Nobody Walks – Ry Russo-Young (2012)


You can’t throw a stick these days without it clunking squarely into something written, directed or created by Lena Dunham. The controversial personality behind the TV show Girls is everywhere: Criterion, HBO, The New Yorker, forums, blogs, Facebook, Twitter — and now she’s on VOD with a new film called Nobody Walks, co-written Ry Russo-Young, about a young artist named Martine (Olivia Thirlby) who has come to Los Angeles to record the sound for a short art film she’s made. Things become sticky, though, when the sexy new houseguest begins to have an affect on the family she is crashing with.

Most of that affect happens in the head of Peter (John Krasinski), the sound effects whiz who is doing the Foley work on her film, who becomes smitten with Martine the second her little boy haircut enters his field of vision. The thing is that it’s never clear why.

Subplots involving Peter’s wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), and her daughter Kolt (India Ennenga) aside, the film stakes its viability on what you think of Martine, but instead of spending any time building her as a living, breathing character, Russo-Young tends to turn her camera to pretty shots of Los Angeles, furtive glancing and of sound collection, slipping into a lazy reliance on the fact that you probably already like Olivia Thirlby enough to automatically like Martine – and to be honest, much the same could be said about John Krasinski’s Peter too.

What do we really know about Thirlby though? Though she seems fairly down to Earth in interviews she rarely plays anyone likable in her movies. In Juno, she is the annoying best friend; in New York, I Love You she plays the girl pretending to be a cripple for research; she’s barely in Margaret long enough to register, and in The Wackness, she… well, everyone sucks in The Wackness to be fair.

That trend continues here with Martine. She is presented as remarkably empty and timid for an artist, having been sued over her last project – naked pictures of her ex-boyfriend – and unable to field a relatable vision with her short film about insects when asked about it. With her, the film lacks conviction, never clearly deciding whether it wants us to think that Martine is special, or whether she is the fraud to be held up to Kolt’s real artistic blossoming.

Still, it’s a pretty film, paced well considering, and the subplot between Rosemarie DeWitt’s psychiatrist and Justin Kirk’s nameless screenwriter is the film’s saving grace, popping up just often enough to keep you engaged. Russo-Young gets much right, but the film’s center is lacking. Having an enigma character usually relies on the filmmaker’s ability to create a character that we so badly want to open up. It’s something Kolt might be if she were the focus instead of a story conduit, but Martine is, when you break it down from what little is shown, probably not worth opening up. She’s actually a pretty awful person, and so is Peter, whose shortsightedness has him jeopardize so much for so little.

Does Film Need a New Hays Code?

It’s been almost a week since Lena Dunham’s Girls debuted on HBO. Girls, the story of a group of rich/upper middle class white girl post-grads living in Brooklyn who have yet to figure out their own lives, continues the deconstruction of the director’s own life that was started in her previous film, the polarizing digital indie Tiny Furniture.

The director, her films, her characters and her castmates have all been routinely pegged as insufferable and obnoxious. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we were all insufferable and obnoxious between the ages of 13 and 25. Some of us even earlier — and later — than that.

The somewhat troubling part of the whole thing is that her films inhabit a world without self-censorship or sense of self-preservation, where nothing is too embarrassing or private to show to the world. In fact, the more embarrassing, the more private, the more it seems to be embraced in her films, and she’s hardly alone in that fact. The cinemascape is heavily dotted these days with stories in the same vein, where sex means demeaning sex at worst, pathetic sex at best, and insecurity is the primary emotion for its still shivering youth who have only begun to wander from the nest. In other words, these films are directly true to life for many girls, and for just as many boys regardless of age, author included.

But is it too true to life? Is there any such thing as “too true to life”? Works like this lack a buffer, refusing to allow us to escape ourselves. They are a cinematic trap: no escapism allowed. There was, after all, a long, laborious battle fought over the last decade – longer even, all the way back to Equus in the 70s, I Am Curious or Les Amants in the 60s, or even Ecstasy in the 30s — to get rid of that buffer, which seemed like the worst kind of censorship imaginable. But did the buffer actually serve only to save directors and writers from themselves (on, conversely, save us from them)? Would another Hays Code usher in a new golden age of cinema, or would the pushback at the censorship render it useless?

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Quick Hits on Tiny Furniture – Lena Dunham (2011)

-I really didn’t catch on to the big deal about the film. I mean that in both the negative and positive: I don’t see what is so great about it, but I certainly don’t see what is the worst thing ever in the world about it. I found it to be a fairly innocuous picture that tread over the same ground as films that came before it, truthfully. There is nothing wrong with that; every director treads over the ground of their inspirations, Welles and Scorsese chief among them. It’s the last thing I’d fault a director or a film for, but I’m also a little skeptical about about the sincerity of the film. It does feel like art for art’s sake, not because there is anything needed to be said. You are supposed to learn something from good films — anything, even the causal recipes that Coppola throws into his films. I didn’t learn anything from this film. I don’t care that it was privileged, I care that it was, for the most part, empty.

-I’m trying to think of more to say about the film, but it didn’t really affect me very much. Most of the reactions I had to it were based on other people’s reactions to it. The extreme views don’t add a balance to the film, they take away from it greatly. But people are allowed to love any film they like and make a connection with, so fair play to people who liked this. A lot of the hate it’s garnered is pretty despicable, but that’s what we’ve become lately: any movie we don’t like is an assault on our senses, a declaration of artistic war which is fought out in the anonymous realms of the internet where the director is helpless to fight back. Of course, I just called the film empty on the internet. I suppose I’m just as bad as the rest, except I wish her good luck on her HBO show.