Most of the time a New York City-set indie movie is no cause for celebration. But every once in a while, a special movie comes along that employs the setting effectively. Director Dustin Guy Defa uses the sprawling city as a way to explore the various lives and stories of a diverse cast of characters as they go about their day in Person to Person.
This is a movie that values the journey of its characters rather than their destination. Person to Person lazily moves along and checks in with its large cast, making it feel less like a movie and more like a collection of short films edited together. Whether it's confronting an ex, deciding on a career path, or admitting one's feelings for a lover, these characters all must reckon with small but personal decisions.
We are first introduced to Bene (Bene Coopersmith) who is waking up to news of a rare pristine Charlie Parker Bird Walks on Jazz record on sale. As he leaves he urges his best friend, Ray (George Sample III) to snap out of his depression. Claire (Abbi Jacobson) is trying to wake up for her first day as a writer for the New York Post where she meets sleazy editor, Phil (Michael Cera). Across town a pair of teens, Wendy (Tavi Gevinson) and Melanie (Olivia Luccardi), skip school. Meanwhile watch repairman Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall) opens up shop.
The movie makes it clear none of these people would run in the same social circles. It’s only once you start paying attention that you see the subtle circumstances that bring these people together. Some connections are obvious like Bene and Ray’s friendship. Others are less direct such as a murder investigation or newspaper headline. By connecting characters that might never otherwise meet, Person to Person emphasizes our commonality as a society.
Because the plot for any of these stories is almost non-existent this could be a frustrating movie for some. But thanks to the 16mm film used, and the gorgeous NYC day in which it takes place, Person to Person has a chill vibe where you’re allowed to take it easy and indulge in each character’s idiosyncratic tendencies.
While Person to Person stars known names like Abbi Jacobson, Michael "Wally Brando” Cera, and character actor Phillip Baker Hall, it's newer faces like Tavi Gevinson and Bene Coopersmith that turn in the most memorable work. Bene is an obsessive record collector with a penchant for being honest in day-to-day conversation. His dry humor brings the majority of the laughs in this movie and he steals the show with a soon-to-be famous bike chase throughout New York. And Tavi, playing Wendy, is able to channel the character’s complexity as a young woman questioning her lesbianism while confidently spouting pseudo-intellectual musings.
Quirky personalities aside, what makes the movie a total delight is the characters all speak in this heightened style with self-aware platitudes akin to Diablo Cody’s best work. The dialogue adds an offbeat quality to the movie that straddles the line between a therapy session or a drunk late night confession.
My biggest complaint about the movie really is the handling of the Ray storyline. For one, online harassment of women is a constant problem that doesn’t seem to go away, but the revenge porn aspect of it is just cruel assault no should wish on anyone. Not only are the scenes of Ray getting his comeuppance presented as a joke but his ex-girlfriend is relatively mild and somewhat forgiving towards him. And while the confrontation's tone falls in line with the rest of the movie, it feels too light for the very serious and cruel subject matter.
Whether finally admitting your feelings to someone, or even opening yourself up to new experiences, these seemingly insignificant decisions are the beginning of bigger things in life. In Person to Person, Defa elevates these small moments filled with hope and self-realization to the spotlight.