The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry, 2011)

by Douglas Buck September 7, 2019 4 minutes (832 words) HD screening Cinéma Moderne, part of the Alex Ross Perry retrospective

Slacker-ish Colin (Alex Ross Perry), living with his girlfriend Zoe (Ry Russo-Young) in an uninspired going-nowhere-fast relationship, agrees to a road trip with his aspiring (to of all things) anchor woman sister J.R. (Carlen Altman), just dropped out of broadcasting school, to help retrieve her belongings from the shifty professor (Bob Byington) she just broke up with (hence, the exiting from the university) leading to, not surprisingly, the bubbling up of lots of unresolved sibling resentments and a few amusingly awkward social moments along the way…

Being as decidedly out-of-touch with just about any and every current cinema scene or movement (“Give me a rep cinema house, or give me death!”, as I like to say), it’s far from eye-opening to anyone who even remotely knows me that I had no idea who the recently (I guess kinda) celebrated (at least on the festival circuit… I think anyway) NY filmmaker Alex Ross Perry was (other than a female cinema friend sniffing ‘A lot of white guys seem to like him’ after I mentioned him to her). Yet, after I noticed it was consistently reliable programmer Charlotte Selb who had orchestrated the weekend of Mr Perry’s work, and that the director was a New Yorker like moi, I decided ‘why not?’ (figuring, at the least, even if I didn’t like the films, I could feel proudly informed on at least one new filmmaker if I found myself at some young hip film shindig and his name suddenly came up… until I remembered I’m never at one of those).

I must admit, when the film started, and it was in black & white, it gave me an unpleasant twinge; not that I mind that choice of look (quite the opposite)… it’s just, with the title (one I don’t think I ever got) it was announcing right out of the gate, with his feature film debut, a possibly annoyingly de rigueur sense of detached irony so cool to the kids. Not a good sign. By five minutes in, after the opening scenes meeting the annoying siblings and girlfriend Zoe, reaching as it does for Woody Allen heights of hilarious complexity with the dialogue delivered by lesser actors under the guidance of obviously novice filmmakers (doing their best to disguise it by moving the handheld camera around a lot), I was already considering on whether I’d just have to swallow the ticket prices for the other tickets I bought in the Perry program and bail.

Then, I don’t know, something happened. The banter became just biting enough, the witticisms just funny enough, that I found myself uncrossing my arms and leaning forward… at first a bit, but eventually – and fairly quickly — so much so, that, by the time, still early in the film, the twosome arrive at a nondescript motel for the night where the (amusingly) absurd manager requires only couples to stay at the place, forcing the two to awkwardly kiss as they pretend to be married, I had to admit I was really enjoying myself… and, with things such as Colin’s off-hand racist jokes (with Perry having the balls to never force his character to explain that he’s probably not really racist, but probably just joking) and the constant barrage of Colin explaining how no one in their family actually likes spending time with J.R. and all of her affectations at ‘talent’ (with her constant misguided attempts at ‘doing voices’, or impersonations, hard to say which it is exactly) the film somehow gained an ingratiating quality, annoying characters and all. Even the super-grainy and cheap video look started to merge satisfyingly with the film’s overall aesthetic.

While the arrival of J.R. at her sneaky louse of a pretentious professor’s home, with a substitute college girl already in his lair, is a scene played right out of Woody’s playbook, and while it doesn’t come close to the comic/drama/philosophy merging of the master, Ross has enough there for the scene to stand on its own terms.

The big revealing twist of the film (which I had no idea about and I’ll try not to spoil here – I mean, if it was a movie from 1944 I would, but it’s so relatively recent, I’ll keep it to myself) is handled admirably, with the hints of what’s to come being so effectively and subtly underscored throughout the film, organically building, it ultimately makes its arrival feel more inevitable than perverse. Kinda remarkable.

Don’t get me wrong. This is no earth-shattering masterwork… but there was enough there to keep me interested, amused… and even thinking. As the credits rolled, I was happy to realize I wouldn’t need to eat those remaining tickets after all, as there was enough promise to interest me enough to see how he’d continue to develop…

What can I say? This (aging) white guy liked the film.

The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry, 2011)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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