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Review – ‘Golden Exits’ is Stunning Exploration of Brooklynite Desire

By  · Published on January 29th, 2017

Sundance 2017

‘Golden Exits’ Is a Stunning Exploration of Brooklynite Desire

Alex Ross Perry returns with another challenging depiction of New York neuroses.

“People never make films about ordinary people who never do anything,” Naomi (Emily Browing) casually remarks to her new boss Nick (Adam Horovitz) in Golden Exits, the latest film from Alex Ross Perry. Minutes earlier, Nick – an archivist with a keen attention to detail – chastises his wife Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny) for using the same two words twice in the same sentence. When the younger Naomi speaks a similar blunder in her mellifluous Australian accent, Nick is hypnotized. Of course, this line of dialogue retains a second significance. Perry is, more or less, making a film about ordinary people who never do anything.

Naomi arrives in Brooklyn to work as Nick’s assistant for the summer. His wife Alyssa and her sister Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker) immediately pick up on her alluring presence. Later, Naomi reconnects with Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), whom she shared a brief acquaintance with on her last trip to New York City. Like Nick, Buddy is pushing through a tepid romantic period in his marriage to Jess (Analeigh Tipton). While Nick sets his sights on Naomi, she cautiously begins to pursue Buddy. Longing and dissatisfaction ensues.

To write that little happens in Perry’s film is both accurate yet fairly unjust. In the way of plot, Golden Exits mostly finds its characters in dialogue heavy conversations with one another. These conversations, often philosophical, display the desire the respective characters experience. This constant desire is not always romantic. Desire is personified in its basest form through Nick, whose yearning to exchange intimacies with Naomi borders on the pathetic. Naomi accepts Nick’s gaze, yet not his advances. She instead seeks the gaze of those more difficult to seduce. Alyssa desires a renewed attraction from her husband, to a disappointingly dismissive lack of avail. Perhaps most interestingly – for the audience anyways – Gwen just wants someone to listen to her inspired ramblings, which range wide enough from emasculating dismissals of Nick to advice that Naomi “fuck her way” through New York City.

Sundance – Film School Rejects

Perry is of course an avid cinephile, the effects of which can be seen throughout his works. Any New York City-based movie buff will tell you that they have spotted Perry at repeated rep screenings at both the Film Society at Lincoln Center and Metrograph. These cinemas respectively screened retrospectives of directors Eric Rohmer and Brian De Palma this year. In Golden Exits, Perry pays tribute to both. His De Palma homage is as simple as a split-focus diopter shot of Nick and Naomi at work. His homage to Rohmer however, runs much deeper. Naomi acts as the object of obsessive desire found in so many of Rohmer’s classics including Claire’s Knee and My Night at Maud’s. Even beyond Naomi, Golden Exits is very much a tribute to Rohmer. Much like Rohmer’s Moral Tales, Perry is more concerned with inner psychology of his characters than the actions they perform. Through their both psychological and philosophical exchanges, Perry bitingly explores the banalities of Brooklyn living.

On its surface, Golden Exits may seem like a substantial departure for Alex Ross Perry. Yet on examination it fits perfectly into his canon. His previous two films pay tribute to the great artist: Philip Roth in the case of Listen Up Philip and Bergman’s Persona in Queen of Earth. With his latest, Perry once again pays tribute to a beloved auteur. Homage aside, Golden Exits is as much Alex Ross Perry as it is Eric Rohmer. The satire of Brooklyn living is sharp, scathing, and often quietly hilarious. Simultaneously, the film successfully captures the pains of unbridled desire. As a piece of writing it is clever and vicious, and as a film it is exceptional. Perry’s work with cinematographer Sean Price Williams brings a beautifully grainy 16mm image. With expert editor (and documentary filmmaker) Robert Greene, Perry meticulously brings us in and out of moments, often fading away just as he demands the audience’s most careful attention. The collaboration of these three experts results in a film that is a delightfully somber and stunning piece of art. Golden Exits is the kind of film that will slip under the radar if we let it, but cinephiles beware: this is not one you want to miss.

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Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films.