Alex Ross Perry’s “Golden Exits” explores the self-loathing emotional complexities of a Brooklyn microcosm
Brooklyn’s cinematic portrait seems to have become synonymous with a general sense of ennui of late. From their listless behavior to the acceptance of their chaotic lives, the Brooklynite characters that grace the films of Dustin Guy Defa, Eliza Hittman, Nathan Silver, Lena Dunham, Lawrence Levine, Sophia Takal and so much more appear to be replicating the feelings and outlooks of the French New Wave and post-war modernist writings. They are flawed–but that is to be embraced.
It appears that the new age of Brooklyn-based films have taken the works of Camus, Sartre, Godard, Truffaut, and Varda and transposed its goal-bereft ideology onto the hipster-centric world of Brooklyn. What was once a borough representing working-class sensibilities and gritty realness has become a breeding ground for esoteric artistry, nihilistic existence, and a self-reflexive aesthetic that even late-80s postmodern enthusiasts would be left scratching their heads at. And few other films showcase this new age Brooklyn culture better than Alex Ross Perry.
With six feature films in eight years, Perry has had quite the prolific career. Shooting exclusively on film, the director has championed the celluloid medium, saying that anyone can do it–even on a micro-budget. There’s a tinge of wishful thinking on Perry’s part. But it nonetheless is a cinematic choice that has paid off for the director. While many other mumblecore directors have incorporated film stock as a means of authentically showcasing grain in their films, the textural specks of Perry’s films are a stylistic choice that soon becomes inherent to the narratives, showcasing the world wherein everyone is rude, selfish and argumentative.
But it seems that Alex Ross Perry is diverging from his usually spiteful characterizations in Golden Exits. While his other films like Listen Up Philip and The Color Wheel had malevolent characters that often pushed each other to new heights of distrust and anger, Golden Exits has discernibly calmer individuals, ones who have been caught in a world of listlessness due to their inherently unhappy relationships. So no, Golden Exits isn’t exactly a complete-180 for the director, it’s more like a 45-degree readjustment. But perhaps Perry should have stuck to his guns, for his newest foray is not a good fit.
Golden Exits tells the story of a small group of Brooklynites whose lives are upended and turned chaotic by the arrival of a young Australian woman, Naomi (Emily Browning). She’s taken up a job offer to help Nick (Adam Horowitz) appraise and archive the “materials” (as he calls them) of his wife, Alyssa’s (Chloë Sevigny), late father. Before long, lust, shame, desire, and embarrassment begin permeating into the lives of all those involved, leading to a lack of trust between everyone.
While Perry’s previous films would have had the characters immediately address the elephant in the room, “Golden Exits” relishes the awkward silence, the unsaid comment, and the lingering suspicions. It makes for a few compelling moments, thanks to the bevy of wonderful actors in the mix. But the film begins to feel bloated and pedantic at times due to the philosophical ramblings that do more to ire than to enlighten. Combined with the overt postmodern moments (Browning’s character at one point erroneously states, “no one makes movies about people who don’t do anything anymore”), “Golden Exits” is a self-righteous cinematic statement, one that comes off as being arrogantly capricious. It’s an ill-fit for Perry, who is much more suited providing viewers with well-conceived contrarian characters, not contrarian characterizations.
Nonetheless, frequent collaborator Sean Price Williams constructs a adept visualization, one that derives pleasure from Bergman-esque extreme close-ups, Rohmer-like intertitles and transitions. Coupled with the grainy aesthetic from the 16mm film, “Golden Exits” showcases a stylization that few other films pull off to this degree. Furthermore, Perry’s delineation from handheld shots to tripod-based slow zooms has brought viewers even closer to the intimacy that Perry seems to be striving for in this relationship drama. Unfortunately, because of the superficial philosophical ruminations and pretentious characterizations, there is seldom any reason to care about anything that happens to these individuals.
Which is a real shame for Alex Ross Perry is often known as a writer-director wunderkind. His dialogue leaps off the page and is embodied by a wonderful cast that wholeheartedly throws themselves into the work. Sevigny’s performance is spellbinding and wondrous, while Schwartzman is his usual affable, distraught self. Mary Louise-Parker also turns in a compelling performance as an individual that could perhaps have been one of the characters in Perry’s earlier films. Even Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys shows that he has a sensitive side that is yearning to demonstrate the depth of his emotionality.
But that does not stop “Golden Exits” from coming off as pretentious, melodramatic and trite. Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is, unfortunately, one of his weaker ones. Maybe it’s time for the director to realize that he should forgo the sweet and stay within the confines of the sour. But knowing Perry’s filmic inclinations, there will be more character experiments to come.
Golden Exits was screened as part of BAMcinemaFest 2017’s Closing Night premiere. It is seeking distribution.