Movie Review

Film Review: PERSON TO PERSON (2017): A Simple, Silly Day In The Life Of New York City

Michael Cera Abbi Jacobson Person To Person

Person To Person Review

Person to Person (2017) Film Review, a movie directed by Dustin Guy Defa, and starring Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Philip Baker Hall, Michaela Watkins, Tavi Gevinson, Olivia Luccardi, Craig Butta, Ben Rosenfeld, Hunter Zimmy, Bene Coopersmith, George Semple III, Buddy Duress, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, and Marsha Stephanie Blake.

In an era where it seems like every other movie is a sequel, spin-off, reboot, or revival of another, it’s important to not forget the simple pleasure of a self-contained story. Although many in Hollywood may have forgotten the uncomplicated joy that can come from such a story, indie director Dustin Guy Defa has not as evidenced by his second feature film Person to Person. Boasting an ensemble cast of both known and unknown talents, the Sundance Film Festival selection treats viewers to a short, sweet story – or rather, a series of short, sweet stories.

Set over the course of a single day, the movie documents the activities and going-ons of several very different people living in New York City. Claire (Abbi Jackson) is a young journalist assigned a murder story her first day of the job by her editor Phil (Michael Cera), whose non-professional intentions towards her would be creepy if they weren’t so laughably harmless. Awkward adolescent Wendy (Tavi Gevinson) wrestles with her identity as her best friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi) pursues boys, a pursuit that Wendy isn’t sure she has much of a stake in.

But the silliest stories have to be Bene’s (Bene Coopersmith) and Ray’s (George Semple III). Bene is a zealous music hunter who goes on the warpath after he buys a rare vintage album that turns out to be fake and Ray is his roommate who runs afoul of his girlfriend’s brother Buster (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) after he posts nude pictures of her online in revenge for her cheating on him. As you might imagine, much of the humor in these sub – or co-, rather – plots is derived from their cat and mouse dynamics. Bene is the cat, pedaling after the kid who burned him through the streets of the city as light jazz music plays, and Ray is the mouse, concocting a pathetically false story while on the phone with Buster to keep his location a secret.

This heightened but nevertheless realistic comedic sensibility is present in the other story arcs as well, with one playfully ridiculous scene between Claire and the chief suspect in her murder story, the victim’s wife (Michaela Watkins). After initiating contact with her, Claire immediately gets cold feet and hesitates, retrieving a loaf of bread her quarry dropped upon turning around to see her and acting like she hadn’t approached her at all. The wife, however, asks Claire why she approached her and she insists that it was simply to pick her bread up for her. Of course, the woman points out that the reason she dropped the bread was because she tried to face her, a move that was prompted by Claire’s calling out to her. Improbably, Claire denies this is what happened even though it’s exactly what happened, leading to a brief back and forth that even more improbably leaves the wife wondering if Claire’s account of events is the correct one. The argument is absurd, but the characters’ are so invested in it that neither of them is able to pick up on this, adding to the ingenious incongruity of the whole thing.

Other scenes suggest that an equal amount of thought was expended on the film’s cinematography. The aforementioned phone scene with Ray, for instance, cuts between him and Buster as the latter grills him over his behavior towards his sister. As a nervous Ray walks across his apartment, the camera tracks to and fro wherever he goes and slightly zooms in when he stops, giving the subtly claustrophobic impression of a prisoner under surveillance. Meanwhile, the camera lightly shakes around as Buster berates him from a basketball court, the motion conveying the busy activity of the setting and complementing the rowdy sound of kids playing in the background. These maneuvers are meaningful enough on their own, but in tandem with each other they help establish the fraught relationship between the two and exemplify the movie’s willingness to show as much as tell.

It’s hard to single any of the cast members out for praise since they all play their part in making the film click, but I will say Cera and Watkins commanded my attention in all of the scenes they were in. Cera, who made a name for himself playing dorky teens and twenty-somethings, has predictably but not unpleasantly moved on to playing dorky men like Phil, although the metal-bumping editor’s awkwardness comes from trying too hard rather than being too scared to try at all as was the case with Evan from Superbad or George Michael from Arrested Development. Clumsy and forward with Claire but never threatening or annoying, Cera’s demeanor allows us to empathize with Phil even as we giggle at his pitiful efforts to woo her.

Watkins, on the other hand, is an entirely different, albeit no less enjoyable, story. Although hers is only a supporting role, the Groundlings veteran brings a humorously disoriented quality to the suspected murderess that makes her appear not all there and leaves viewers befuddled by her behavior. This proves to be a source of several of the movie’s funniest moments like the previously-mentioned exchange between her and Claire, but Watkins is wise enough to not oversell her character’s weirdness and remains just “there” enough to plausibly exist in the movie’s off-beat yet believable world.

Person to Person isn’t going to change the world, and thank God, because how many movies have come out in the past year or so that we were told would “change the world?” What Defa wants to change, if anything is the audience’s day, and he does so with an amusing story that has the power to lift not people but their spirits and demands nothing more of viewers than an hour and 20 minutes of their time. In a cultural zeitgeist dominated by epic blockbusters like Star WarsAvengers, and Transformers, it’s nice to know there’s still room for little films like Person to Persons.

Rating: 8/10

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About the author

Reggie Peralta

An aspiring writer, longtime film junkie, and former UCLARadio.com disc jockey (where I graduated with a BA in Political Science), I've made the jump from penning book reviews and current events editorials for HonorSociety.org to writing movie and TV news and reviews.

When I'm not working towards my certificate in Radio and Television/Video Production at Fullerton College, I enjoy reading (horror, science fiction, and historical/political nonfiction are particular favorites), participating in my school's TV and theatre clubs, attending movie screenings, plays, concerts, and other events, and trying to come up with pithy things to say on social media. Believe it or not, there are occasions where I find time to write for my own leisure.

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