Other people’s relationships are not necessarily that fascinating. But love is; won or lost, tragically missed or fortuitously found – there is drama built into the idea of it, if not the reality. Thus in our fictional projections it’s the suspense and jeopardy, and of course the characters caught up within it, that really make love interesting.
But despite adopting some of the tropes of a good romance, in their quest to show us a “true” snapshot of New York life, this is perhaps what Canadian filmmaker Jeffrey P. Nesker and writer Tom Wilton lose sight of in their debut feature Elsewhere, NY.
The set-up is good: Jen, an Ohioan girl moves to New York via Boston to live with her friend Christine. But when the latter fails to show up on her arrival, she ends up having a one-night stand with smooth-talking barman, Todd. Turns out he’s an asshole; case closed. Until two years later when he reappears unexpectedly in Jen's life as her boyfriend Ethan’s new roommate, his presence ironically only a reality because of her own inability to commit. So far, so promising.
The film is shot in a shaky hand-held kind of way in its effort to convey realism, a slice of atmospheric Big Apple life. There are blurry close-ups on the characters’ faces, shots of the city moving in and out of focus, and conversation sequences where the characters are talking but their lips don’t move, to give the montage effect of a boozy night out.
It’s done well enough but can’t distract from our sneaking suspicion that such methods are being employed because the plot is not taut enough and the chemistry between the leads not strong enough to hold our interest. When the characters do reach their will-they/won’t-they moment, there really isn’t enough to lose or gain by what they decide.
Though she can’t keep the project together singlehandedly Gillian Leigh Visco as Jen is good value ¬– you feel she might have come into her own in a sharper New York tale. And the film has its moments such as when Todd, something of a pick-up artist, heads out into the city alone, going to parties and bars, trying to get laid, ending up lonely. But once revealed to us as unchanged, his inherently sleazy nature is not really addressed either as a narrative stumbling block or source of sexual comedy.
Ethan, Jen and Todd seem like some average people who aren’t driven by anything dark, funny or unexpected; who aren’t hiding themselves from the redemptive power of love. They’re just normal New Yorkers, falling in and out of relationships not really sure which way to turn. And the film isn’t too sure what it wants either.
If the set-up is based upon the success or failure of love, then the viewer needs to know what drives and what threatens to prevent it.
In the end, even if it’s dressed in distinctly indie garb, we need to care as much as we did when Cher and Josh just wouldn’t get together, when Rosalind Russell refused to see that, of course, she loves Cary Grant, and even when Theodore Twombly and Samantha seemed to have the chance of live happily ever after in some battery-powered metaphysical space.
We don’t want to be elsewhere, we want to be there, in the moment, caring deeply how things turn out before we return to messy unscripted existence.
Elsewhere, NY screens tonight at 6:30pm at Genesis Cinema
You can consult the full programme and buy tickets on the festival's official website
The East End Film Festival runs until July 12th