Audiences have been watching neurotic New Yorkers behaving eccentrically on the big and small screens for decades. From the films of Woody Allen to the nine-year run of Seinfeld, even viewers in the smallest towns in America have grown accustomed to the strange problems and odd situations that can befall characters living in a metropolis. Person to Person, the new film from writer/director Dustin Guy Defa, mines this same creative vein to differing degrees of success.
As the film opens, we’re introduced to a cast of characters who are scattered across the city. A reporter and his wet-behind-the-ears assistant are investigating a death that may be a murder or may simply be a suicide. Elsewhere a young African American man is trying to elude his girlfriend’s brother who is seeking revenge for an ill-advised internet break-up post. In another scenario, a man is chasing down a rare Charlie Parker album and believes he’s been sold a counterfeit copy. And in a fourth plot strand, two high school students are hanging out and hooking up with a pair of classmates.
Person to Person is an expansion of a 2014 short film written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa, and oddly enough, the concept probably works better as a series of short films than an 85-minute feature. The narratives are not ultimately connected in any significant way. This is no Amores Perros or Babel where the disparate plot threads all intersect in a manner that gives the overall narrative a greater sense of clarity. These are simply characters who occupy the same geographic space over the course of a single day.
As can happen with larger ensemble pieces, the characters feel more like labels than people. Each of them is defined by a quirk or obsession. The veteran reporter can’t stop talking about his amateur heavy metal band. His protege is a budding journalist who hates conflict and interviewing people. Another character is a ne’er-do-well who needs friends to encourage him to take a shower or leave the apartment. Then there’s the hipster who’s obsessed with whether his shirt is too flashy. And we have the ubiquitous snarky teen who’s wise beyond her years. Even after 85 minutes, we don’t know a whole lot more than that about them when the film ends.
There is nothing wrong with this film, but in the crowded cinema market, there’s also no compelling reason to seek it out. The performances are uniformly solid, and the narrative unfolds at a brisk pace. But, it’s ultimately a road to nowhere. We see each of the characters take a baby step forward in their respective lives, careers, etc., and then the credits roll. Seinfeld may have infamously been “a show about nothing”, but the average film-goer wants a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Person to Person picks up in the middle of its characters’ lives and leaves them there. It’s a bit like treading water in a theater seat.
Person to Person expands to additional Landmark Theatre locations on Friday, August 4, 2017 including the Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.