“Everybody thinks it’s so easy to be all alone and beautiful. Like I was.”
“Golden Exits” comes with the following abstract: “…a star-studded ensemble in this witty comedy, which interweaves the stories of several disaffected New Yorkers…”
Nobody should ever get tired of New York City movies. It’s a city with a state of mind, and a groove, with more stories to tell as there are windows in the skyline. Anything out of New York is bound to be A#1, or they wouldn’t have made it there.
I mean that’s where I stand on the subject. But I grew up in a place without any stoplights. Further I’ve got a literature degree without speaking any other language, which means I measure my New York-based books by the foot.
But let’s say you think otherwise (being wrong). You might say:
“Magalli, we’ve already got that movie. We’ve already got that movie this year. We’ve got that movie FIVE TIMES this year, and this one isn’t even the first one this year shot in 16mm. We’re good on New York City films for 2017.”
(need I mention: Landline, Person to Person, Only Living Boy in New York, Norman,The Meyerwitz Stories, and those are just the ones I’ve seen.)
Okay, I hear you. But this one, “Golden Exits,” is written/directed by Alex Ross Perry, and he could make the daily rolling SEPTA delay seem fresh. Perry has a notable corpus in the field of domestic dramas, somewhere more prolific that Stillman but less so that Baumbach. But Perry also shows greater range than his contemporaries: 2014’s “Listen Up Philip” was a clever and biting domestic piece, 2015’s “Queen of Earth” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzPgN8eEI-c ) was really more of an Aronofskyan head spinner.
So I told you that to tell you this: If we’re listing auteurs who can add new polish to NYC Mural Cinema, I’d happily name Ross on my shortlist.
Perry’s “Golden Exits” is a little thematically tighter than the typical ‘New Yorkers being Interesting’ film (looking at you, ‘Person to Person): This work throws a dynamic foreign element into the intersection of several pre-existing storylines that are a priori at the high-pressure point, staging demonstrations on themes of commitment, temptation, attachment, and desire.
The film establishes itself with a series of rather straightforward scenarios involving lust, trust, and disaffection, but evolves its characters and pile on backstory and internal perspective to teeter the film off of its comedy tracks into a rather daring and tense experience. This sudden shift to the right is a Perry specialty, and in this film it serves equally to ramp up the story as it does to subvert the genre. What are initially positioned as comic arrangements end up illustrating, if not elucidating, poignant messages about satisfaction and dissatisfaction as they work as forces on relationships.
In what could in fact be a series of rapid-shift stage scenes, the film accomplishes its commentary through a carousel of mostly-2 person dialogues to allow the characters to mirror, juxtapose, goad, entrance, and suffer each other. But each seen is equally defined by which characters AREN’T present, with each engagement onscreen being triangulated by a specific character who isn’t. In that the plotting is nuanced to a degree that isn’t entirely obvious at first, and I’d offer the highest praise that this is a rare comedy that could actually be benefited by a 2nd viewing in rapid order.
Though the blurb reads ‘star studded,’ take that as variable definitions of stars. Emily Brown shines as the Australian Assistant causing the all the ruckus, in particular demonstrating a versatility to oscillate between lost lamb and temptress so as to be convincing in both roles but still present a grounding as one character. Former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz is convincingly and amusingly frustrated as a tempted archivist; Grand (Indie) Dame Chloe Sevigny and West Wing Alum Mary Louise Parker are excellent in offering up the film’s deepest emotional commitments.
But give credit where credit is due: Perry and cinematographer Sean Price Williams extract performances out of their cast that raises the ceiling of each of them. Shooting the film in 16mm not only provides the film with that antique 70’s feel that has come to be associated with seriousness, but it allows for a greater presentation of depth than typical digital polishing allows for. In a literal sense, I mean: “Golden Exits” uses foreground and background staging to allow for characters to be both side-by-side on a horizontal plane but clearly disparate on a Z axis.
Okay, that sounded technical and geeky. But trust me, it’s effective (there’s a ‘putting up her hair’ scene that raises the bar on the cinematic potential of the trope).
Similarly the music fits perfectly as the final piece of the composite. Not in the background, not spotlit, Perry’s choices for scoring complete each scene, and evolve in complexity/poignancy as the film’s interactions gather velocity: the first act is accompanied nearly entirely by piano bar jazz, which evolves into Smetana-esque classical atmosphere as layers of desperation are revealed, and finally the end of the film is Richter-esque moments of despair score.
That to say: if “Golden Exits” isn’t the Best New York Film this year, it’s certainly the Best Crafted New York Film of 2017.
For all that the work does excellently, there are things that Perry refuses to do at all: denouement? Forget about it. Elucidation of critical decision making? Not as much as you’d want. Closure? No sir.
As much as the film itself is a straight 45 degrees up into intensity, the arcs of the characters are only given to us as segments. A sympathetic viewer will can spin you that this is how life work, that Perry is painting us an accurate snapshot. A movie goer with more conventional expectations would call it lazy, or at the very least accuse Perry of offering a meal that is all presentation and no filling.
Ultimately it is intuitive to sympathize with a handful of characters, and I imagine every viewer with a past will pick at least one character to be kin to. Yet the small slice of each that we are given will make it difficult to experience any deeper emotional sympathy.
So here’s the truth: People who are into this type of movie, are going to dig “Golden Exits.” People not into this type of movie, and no harm there, won’t. But Perry has crafted a work of sufficient nuance, and also of tangible comedy, that I believe that the middle third of on-the-fence viewers will enjoy the accessibility of the work and appreciate the mechanics even if not entirely cognizant of the intricacy.
So if you’re into movie-goer movies, or if you’re just open to it, Take the A Train to “Golden Exits.” Despite being an addition an already well-stocked shelf, it is nevertheless a work that distinctly owns its place as a New and Impressive addition to the canon of New York.