Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quiet City

Dir. Aaron Katz

Viewed: From the Couch

Aaron Katz's Dance Party, USA was a sweet little slice of teenage disconnect. It showed a guy, who through some small moments of realization, grew up a bit and learned to connect with a girl and come to terms with his own life. Katz's 2007 follow-up Quiet City moves us into 20-something territory and the results aren't nearly as revelatory as they were with his teenage protagonists. Like an even more minor scale Before Sunrise, we follow a couple as they meet, talk, run into some friends, talk some more, all the while developing a budding relationship in the span of a day or less. It's not all a failure. In fact, Katz's ability to craft honest, real, three-dimentional characters out of every one of his cast of unknowns is on full throttle through the entire proceedings (like Dance Party, this one clocks in at under and hour and a half as well). And his ability to film these location shots throughout New York and make the city feel so desolate and lonely is a real triumph -- there's some great looking stuff in here. But it all seems somewhat rote and less than inspired.

Padraic made a comment about these types of films -- there has to be something more to them than simply capturing the lives of 20-somethings no matter how accurate and generation-defining they may be. If all Quiet City is trying to do is capture the begining of a relationship between a girl and a guy in Brooklyn, it succeeds with flying colors. The dialog rings true. You can say to yourself, I've been at that same damn hipster art show! They've re-created it note for note! I've left my hat at a friend's house too and took forever to go pick it up, just like Charlie! It's like they know my life! It's true, much of the movie has a perfect slice-of-life quality, even moreso for a Brooklynite, I'm sure. But what's missing is the tiny earthquake. In Dance Party you felt like the combination of all these small, quiet moments led up to the moving of a mountain -- a shifting of a personal continental shelf. It wasn't underlined or exagerated, but after the movie was over, you felt it. When the credits appear on Quiet City, it's much more of a, well, wasn't that nice, feeling.

There are a few knock-out scenes, one of them an interesting parallel to Once, an unspoken RFC favorite from a couple years ago. In the scene, which takes place during their first few hours together, our couple have an improptu jam session with a cheapie electric keyboard in Charlie's tiny apartment. They put on a programed beat and the would-be lovers each take one side of the keyboard and for a couple minutes make the most beautiful song ever recorded. It's not a rip off of the similar moment in Once, it's a completely organic, priceless moment all its own and like any good music making scene it doubles as a sex scene and in this case it's of the sweetest, fumbliest kind. Scenes like this one and the one that follows when the would-be girlfriend cups her hands to help him light his cigarette -- the moment is captured perfectly in rooftop moonlight -- go a long way towards making up for its manic-pixie-dreamgirl-itis.

It's about as tough a mountain to climb in a movie these days. The girl who drops out of the sky to sweep a young man off his feet... It's a hard sell. Since it's just about every man's dream, I'm sure every young male filmmaker has this story and it'll come out one way or another -- this is Aaron Katz's manic-pixie-dreamgirl story and as far as such things go it isn't half-bad.

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