And so it came to pass that strange phenomena heretofore considered cosmically impossible would befall our world on a regular basis. Last week: Asteroid 2012 DA14 came within an eyelash of us, just a few hours after an “unpredicted” meteor bashed into Russia and all over YouTube. This week there are not one, not two, but THREE feature films getting micro-releases starring Ray from Girls.
Calling Alex Karpovsky “Ray from Girls” is perhaps a little bit of an insult – he did have a career in the world of low-fi festival films prior to the (fantastic) HBO series that launched a thousand Vulture editorials. Nevertheless, the hot-headed coffee shop manager and taker of Shoshanna's virginity is what he's best known for. With the triple punch of this week, the fact that he "also makes his own independent movies" has a shot at breaking through to the collective unconscious. Whether or not anyone sees these movies is another matter.
I jumped into the A-Karp triple feature around lunch and had the three sub-90 minute titles under my belt before dark. I didn't realize it at the time, but I ended up going alphabetically.
Almost in Love is, on paper anyway, the most interesting. It is an 80-something minute film of two 40-something minute long takes. The first is a party on a Staten Island balcony at sunset, the second a wedding reception after-party at a beach house before dawn. As conversation drifts in and out and the camera weaves its away around, you'll catch whiffs of the characters' sublimated feelings for one another, which inevitably involve unrequited love and missed opportunities.
Written and directed by Sam Neave, whose previous films Cry Funny Happy and First Person Singular star many of the same actors, Almost in Love wins points on verisimilitude. Indeed, hanging out with upwardly mobile 30-something douches in New York that you don't already know is just as mildly amusing as this movie lets on. The second half, set in a large house on Karpovsky's character's wedding night, is indeed technically impressive, but the "we're all drunk" storyline is a built-in fail safe against bumbled lines or missed marks. Almost in Love is almost a movie. It isn't boring, but doesn't measure up to anything. If this "filmed play" were on the stage, it wouldn't make it out of a black box in New Haven.
Red Flag, in which Karpovsky isn't just the star, but is the writer and director as well, has lesser aspirations but ends up achieving far more. It is a shaggy dog tail of a fringe filmmaker named Alex on a tour of art houses introducing his low budget movie called Woodpecker. (If you couldn't guess, Karpovsky made a low budget movie called Woodpecker.)
Karpovsky blows the lid off of bland motels that don't allow late check-outs, small theaters with medium attendance and girlfriends that aren't impressed with allegedly grand, romantic gestures.
Red Flag is a wank if ever there was one, the type of film any filmmaker who's ever suffered this sort of tour has always wanted to make, but it stays endearing thanks to the performances of tagalong friend Onur Tukel (from Septien and his own terrific comedy Richard's Wedding) and "indie groupie" Jennifer Prediger (also from Richard's Wedding and one of the more watchable Joe Swanberg films Uncle Kent.)
Karpovsky is also the director and co-writer of the third film, Rubberneck. It is the farthest departure from his Girls persona and, as it happens, the only of the three I actually recommend going out of your way to see.
Rubberneck is set in a dull Massachusetts science lab, where the bespectacled Karpovsky shakes test tubes and wears a white coat. We meet him at the annual Christmas party as he's putting the moves on a new co-worker (Jaime Ray Newton). She goes home with him and they share a weekend - something we quickly learn is quite out of the ordinary for him. After she politely tries to break it off, he becomes obsessed. It's a slow build, and the mundane lab (quite the opposite from the type we normally see in movies) is a perfect setting.
Rubberneck is a very interesting psychological portrait, and as recently as five years ago may have gotten attention on its own. Now, with the absolute onslaught of product available via VOD, I can understand why Tribeca Film felt the need to do the double-barreled release with Red Flag. (And why Almost in Love would want to piggy-back off of that.) With the Karpovksy Trifecta a natural headline (this article knowingly feeding into it), the abundance of material brings some self-fulfilling prophecy attention.
Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure. Does the existence of the other two films dilute Rubberneck's punch? Or does it create a marketing wave in an impossible marketplace? Almost in Love and Red Flag both have some merit - the former is at least formally ambitious, and the latter has a few solid laughs - but they feel like glorified shorts. Maybe a time when anyone with an inexpensive camera, a laptop and access to an actor on a hit HBO show could get their film released wasn't so bad?
Almost in Love is currently playing at Brooklyn's Re-Run Theater. Red Flag and Rubberneck hit VOD on February 19th and Lincoln Center February 22nd.