“Do I need to be worried about Naomi?”
Decidedly a change of pace from the hostile, probing nature of Alex Ross Perry’s other work, Golden Exits doesn’t revel in the abuse heaped upon its characters, though Perry is comfortable lingering in their malaise and anxieties. The characters that populate Golden Exits are quite frank about their flaws and how dissatisfied they find themselves, yet there’s very little evidence to make out why they are so miserable. Especially when every scene is draped in a romantic sheen expertly captured by Sean Price Williams (Good Time, Marjorie Prime). The interior lives of neurotic, upscale New Yorkers have been told many times by many filmmakers, but Perry has big ideas at play to set this film apart. It’s too bad that monologues often have to do the heavy lifting.
Nick (Adam Horowitz) enjoys the simplicity that is his life. His place of employment and his home are on the same block. He can have lunch at a deli without dealing with the anxiety of running late when he heads back to work. He can have a beer immediately after punching out on the time clock. Well, at least that’s what he says to his new assistant, Naomi (Emily Browning). Deep down, he knows that his expiration date is approaching, and he doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it. Nick’s profession is archiving; his current assignment finds him employed by his sister-in-law, Gwendolyn (Mary-Louise Parker), to archive and appraise the documents of his recently deceased father-in-law. Gwendolyn is none-too-pleased to be working with Nick in this particular case: she’s always resented his inclusion into her family, and what he may or may not have done to his wife/Gwendolyn’s sister, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny).
Naomi’s once agreeable presence grows more malicious to Alyssa, as she assumes Nick’s old bad habits are in play. Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), whom Naomi has a tenuous link to and enjoys drinking with, just chooses not to tell his wife Jess (Annaleigh Tipton) about his rendezvous. Both wives lay feelings of distrust to the whims of the young intern almost immediately. This posturing further paints Naomi as the author of their destruction, which ignores the cracks in the foundation for both couples; the arrival of an attractive, young woman just exposed them. Otherwise, Alyssa wouldn’t write off the lack of communication in her marriage as “[losing] the ability to feign interest after a decade.” Gwendolyn knows better. While lacking in a romantic life of her own, Gwendolyn is aces at dispensing advice for the other women to follow; mainly, that Naomi can’t be faulted for the advances of weaker men.
Connections define Golden Exits, ranging from the tangled root of conversations between Nick and Naomi; Naomi and Buddy; Naomi and Gwendolyn; Gwendolyn and Alyssa; Jess and Buddy; Jess (Annaleigh Tipton) and her sister Sam (Lily Rabe); etc. All of them are connected by an employer, spouse, or sibling, and the topic of discussion between any two characters is usually about one of the others. Perry’s aim here is to depict the way that relationships have internal half-lives, but they often go on past that point if only out of obligation. A thesis this Bergman-ian deserves its own film, sadly, Golden Exits pursues love triangles.
During scenes where Sevigny/Parker and Lily Rabe/Tipton capture the raw, complicated nature of being siblings are the highlight of the picture, which is why it’s so frustrating to come back to the frailty of married men. Granted, there are moments when both marriages prove of interest, such as when each couple dabbles in their own language and habits. The curtain is drawn down on these intimate talks before they can reach full dramatic potential. Still, the score by Keegan DeWitt intensifies a lot of the emotions at play. The rotation of actors is impressive, yet Browning gets the short stick; leered at while not getting her own inner life to build her character on.
Golden Exits is the least clean and most overwritten of Perry’s filmography, resulting in a mostly suffocating mood where everything is explained (even the title). When most scenes end with lines like: “What a joy it must be to function as my sole outlet for a never-ending source of introspective blather,” the authentic, small movie about “ordinary people who don’t really do anything,” can’t get off the ground.