In contrast with the high-profile and ostentatious trappings of Everything Everywhere All At Once, which enmeshed the idiosyncrasies of genre with patent identity politics, Kit Zauhar’s survey of contemporary millennial society takes place within the microcosms of locale, character, and affect. Her first feature, the caustic but self-reflexive Actual People, was a study of disconnected youth struggling to both fulfill and reject the cultural labels imposed upon them, following a soon-graduating philosophy senior around the last weeks of college life as she flitted in and out of ennui and desperation, and toward the banality of the working world. Actual People resonated with its audience in part because they saw themselves in the somewhat amorphous character of Riley — played by Zauhar herself — whose professional and personal anxieties were unwoven to an almost cringeworthy, but hardly reductive, extent. The question of racial identity undergirding the film, in addition, posed at the very least some thoughtful questions pertaining to lived, ongoing circumstances: Riley, as an Asian American, seems to order her dating preferences around this essentialist attribute, and her pursuit (with mixed results) of a career not typically grounded in job security or financial stability runs counter to the stereotyped traditionalism of her family.
This Closeness, Zauhar’s follow-up to Actual People, retains much of this resonance but refines it for a slightly more ambitious crowd of three. Tessa (Zauhar) and her boyfriend Ben (Zane Pais) rent an apartment room in Philadelphia, where they’ve gone for the latter’s high school reunion; but their co-tenant is Adam (Ian Edlund), a long-term inhabitant by the looks of it, and an oddball, weirdo, incel, sociopath — whatever’s quick to roll off the tongue. Quickly, the tension notches up among the three; multiple tensions in fact, as romantic distrust thaws unresolved insecurities and overt hostility awakens performative sexual crisis. Tessa and Ben are otherwise intimate, but the arrival of Ben’s high school crush over beers provokes jealousy and instigates the use of defensive and poisonous rhetoric in response. Adam’s intermittent presence, similarly, colors the politics of cohabitation, as an outsider from within threatening to displace the unchallenged but inherently unstable notion of masculine self-confidence.
Zauhar, like before, doesn’t shy away from portraying her characters as stereotypes in some way — Adam’s indeed a bit of a recluse, with a menacing demeanor to boot, while Ben is nothing short of a mellowed-down, frat-boy douchebag — but this doesn’t detract from the film’s merits. If anything, she makes a point with this stereotyping, that within the generality of the Airbnb apartment lie conceivable and relatable specifics which articulate our prevalent culture of individualism commingling with helpless suspicion. Despite the apparent candor all three individuals display at some point with one another, there persists a breakdown in communication, frustrating desire, resentment, reconciliation, or some coordination among them. To pigeonhole this languid pessimism as yet another instance of American indie mumblecore wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it also glosses over the hermetic framing carefully employed here, a composition meant to reflect the very ironies of pigeonholing and typification. That all three adults work in some area of communication (ASMR, journalism, video games) further ironizes, without necessarily wallowing in, their lackluster situation. The funny thing about isolation, which This Closeness skilfully realizes, is that the furthest distances are sometimes felt within the confines of four walls.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 11.