Credit: Tribeca Film Festival
by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film

Nuked — Deena Kashper [Tribeca ’24 Review]

June 15, 2024

Imbued with plenty of allure and the potential for surprise, friendly get-togethers and familial gatherings in cinema sustain such an appeal that they never outright feel dusty or outmoded, and, on the contrary, still hold a special place for many contemporary indie dramedies. Despite financial practicalities that often circumscribe such indie films to a single primary location (interior or otherwise), these films are still able — with the aid of unique and well-developed characters — to flesh out multi-faceted portraits of people, places, and the dilemmas of the human condition. Films such as BenDavid Grabinski’s Happily, Kestrin Pantera’s Pretty Problems, or even Tyler Taormina’s most recent effort, Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point (which premiered at this year’s Cannes) are only a few examples that come to mind, with Deena Kashper’s feature debut Nuked belonging to the same ilk.

Jack (Justin Bartha), a teacher, and Gill (Anna Camp), a popular podcaster, are a supposedly happily married couple. Gill’s had some success with her marriage podcast (“Marriage in the Middle Ages”), often cribbed from personal experience, but once Jack finds out about her secret birth control pills and a group of friends show up for their joint 40th birthday party, things quickly go sideways, revealing long-hidden secrets, well-concealed desires, and personal doubts from behind the thin façade of felicity and tenuous ostentation. From its playful opening voiceover and screwball-esque dialogues to the easygoing yet composed performances of its octet ensemble (and supported by the occasional visual gimmick, splitting the screen between ongoing events and utilizing cell phone screens), Nuked, at least during the introductory first act, promises to deliver an amusing deadpan burlesque, if not a purely original comedy of manners. But after the guests reluctantly surrender their phones so that everyone might become more present and celebrate “the times before Facebook and Instagram,” the cannabis-induced revelry that opens the film soon peters out, and things fail to ever really take off.

Instead, as these initial charms and wits evaporate, everything begins to nosedive into overfamiliar banality and kitsch. When one of the guests, Penelope (Lucy Punch), sneakily checks her phone and realizes a nuclear missile is heading right their way, the characters are provided not much to work with apart from hysterics and an excessively cartoonish disposition that stymies more profound and precise observations of both the situational crisis and its participants’ interiorities. All this is essentially due to Kashper endeavoring to cover more than a handful of different characters and their singular issues at once, from matrimonial misunderstandings and discomforts to secret affairs and old flames, with pregnancy, mid-life challenges, and queer romances all thrown in for good measure. Nuked thus remains tonally unfocused and narratively shallow, to the point that it seems likely Gill’s podcast would present more insight, humor, and unconventional content about middle-aged married life than the actual film does.

Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 2.