Saturday, February 21, 2015

WILD CANARIES: Lawrence Michael Levine's new-fangled comedy/mystery throwback

Imagine Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys meeting as adults in modern-day Brooklyn and encountering murders and a lot of lesbiansim, and you might just come up with an idea of what you will get from the new independent movie WILD CANARIES.

Better yet, think of the 1950s television series, Mr. and Mrs. North, with Pam and Jerry played by the modern-day couple Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal, and you'll have an even stronger sense of this odd little concoction.

The press info for the film calls it a "freshly comic take on classic film noir" -- which is yet another way to approach the movie. As a kid TrustMovies couldn't get enough of the Mr. & Mrs. North series. Watching some of these half-hour programs again recently on video, he can understand why he loved them so back then, while realizing that, no, they're not all that entertaining for the adult mind. Something of the same effect transpires in the course of this new film, written and directed by Mr. Levine (shown at right).

Levine's movie begins promisingly enough, with some fine banter between its in-love protagonists, Barri and Noah (Ms Takal and Levine, above) involving everything from jobs and money to friends, landlords, employers and past loves -- several of whom we soon meet.

These folk include the likes of roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat, above), a young woman who has more than a passing interest in Barri, and Eleanor (the gorgeous Annie Parisse, below) ex-lover and current employer of Noah, who is herself now exploring a lesbian relationship of her own.

Then there are the couple's neighbors who include the aged Sylvia (Marylouise Burke) and her visiting son (Kevin Corrigan, shown in the penultimate photo), and the building's relationship-troubled landlord, Damien (Jason Ritter, below).

There are plenty more familiar names and faces for those of you who frequent American independent cinema, including even the likes of Larry Fessenden (playing poker in a non-speaking role). In fact, as it unfurls and because the plot is not a little far-fetched and the final explanation of which even more so (though Miss Parisse does a bang-up job of explication), the movie seems to almost be a kind of "inside" joke played upon us by the bougie-aspiring Brooklyn filmmaking set.

The excellent, if highly naturalistic performances here -- especially from Corrigan, Ritter, Lindsay Burdge and Eleanore Hendricks -- sometimes interfere with the movie's aspirations to the screwball comedy/mystery genre, while the performances of Takal, Levine, Shawkat and Parisse all handle the plot machinations with a lighter, more graceful touch. While some this can be attributed to the characters these performers play, at times it seems that half the cast is appearing in a different film.

One of those movies that you sometimes feel may have been more fun to make than to view, and despite its straight-ahead intent to charm and entertain above all, Wild Canaries raises some interesting questions that its filmmaker might have included here in an unconscious rather than conscious manner. Why are all five of the most prominent women in the film either involved in or toying with a lesbian relationship, while, among the men, there's not a trace of homosexuality to be seen. Are Brooklyn gals more open to exploring their sexuality to its fullest, while the guys are, as usual, completely closed off dunderheads? Or is this the too-often experienced male view of women as all possibly femme fatales, to which lesbian tendencies simply add? Interesting to consider. It makes one wonder what a female writer/director would have done with this story?

In any case, Wild Canaries -- from IFC/Sundance Selects and running just a little too long at 96 minutes -- is a well-acted and not un-entertaining bauble that I wish had been even more so. It opens this Wednesday, February 25, here in New York City at the IFC Center. On Friday, March 6, it hits Los Angeles (at the Arena Cinema), Seattle (at the NW Film Forum), and Miami (at the Cosford Cinema. Click here to check in as later playdates are posted.

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