'Nobody Walks': Stumbling Character Study Still Engages
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
In the opening scene of "Nobody Walks," Olivia Thirlby, sporting an androgynous haircut and dressed in duds that scream St. Marks Place via the Upper East Side, is getting off a plane at LAX and walking into the parking garage with some hunky dude. When they get to his car, they start making out, really, really making out, and the dude actually starts unbuckling his belt. I am watching this and I say to myself, "Lemme guess, we're gonna find out they just met." And sure enough, in a little bit Thirlby's character demurs and says, "Listen, I had a great time sitting next to you on the plane ..."
Thirlby's irresistible character, Martine, is a New York artist or artiste who's come out to the land of sun-drenched anomie to do sound on a film she's putting into an installation. Her guy for the job is Peter (John Krasinski), the husband of a friend of a friend of Martine's: Rosemarie DeWitt's Julie, apparently, was "one of the original members of [the friend's] post-feminist wolf pack," yikes. Julie's got a teen daughter from a first marriage to somewhat improbable classic-rock star Dylan McDermott, and this daughter, Kolt (India Ennenga), writes poems, of which one of her teachers says, "Sylvia Plath would be proud," and has an Italian tutor whose existence may or may not be a nod to Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose work may or may not be an influence on this picture. (As for the influence of Joan Didion, I'd bet real money that the film's makers eagerly cop to it.) Without doing anything much more besides being, and being embodied by the highly magnetic Thirlby, Martine turns the lives of these characters if not fully upside down, then at least, in some cases, sideways.
I'm making this movie sound both predictable and insufferable, and at some points and in some ways it is both. As Pauline Kael once said of "The Searchers," "you can read a lot into it, but it isn't very enjoyable." But it isn't easily dismissible either.
Directed by New-York-based filmmaker Ry Russo-Young and co-written by Russo-Young and "Girls"-meister Lena Dunham (working here for the first time in a non-comedic mode, he said, pinching his nose so it sounded funny), the movie mostly avoids overt commonplace N.Y.-versus-L.A. observations and aims for something more enigmatic. The close-to-Hollywood environment is one in which everyone is encouraged to be frank about their feelings and their needs, and yet nobody ever really seems to connect anyway. Again, this is an old theme, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth exploring. Despite some of the action being entirely predictable (Peter and Marnie do wind up coupling, as do Marnie and Peter's hunky assistant, but the movie doesn't go full "Teorema" and have Marnie seducing the kid and the wife as well) a few of the turns the story takes are surprising in ways that are unusually engaging.
The cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt often simulates Kodachrome-bleached-out-by-California-sunlight in a pleasing way, and the actors are all first-rate or close, although Krasinski does tend to telegraph a bit (his "Hell-low" on first laying eyes on Martine might as well be in a Tex Avery cartoon, as would his indignant overplaying when his character is found out). The actual puzzles the characters represent might have been more interesting had the characters all not been so relentlessly sexualized. A suitable alternate title for this might be "The Art Girl Can't Help It."
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.