A charming indie comedy that defies expectations has some particularly fascinating things to say about friendship and everyday life.
There’s something particularly pleasant about watching Person to Person. It’s not just that it was filmed in 16mm (and presented in 35mm at the London Film Festival), which gives the film a warm, nostalgic glow. Dustin Guy Defa’s film is about friendship, and trying to stay in an increasingly unjust world. Many modern indie comedies come packed with a considerably acerbic with and a healthy dose of cynicism. Remarkably, these traits are nowhere to be found in Person to Person, a film with an impressively clear vision, and its determination to make you laugh will leave you with a goofy grin from start to finish.
Person to Person hones in on an ensemble of characters navigating their way through life in New York City over a single day.There’s Claire (Abbi Jacobson), starting her new job as an investigative journalist and her mentor Phil (Michael Cera), who has a penchant for (his own) heavy metal music. Wendy (Tavi Gevinson) skips a day of classes with her friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi). Bene (Bene Coopersmith) is looking to new a rare record, while his best friend Ray (George Sample III) wants to rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. There’s also Jimmy (Philp Baker Hall) who owns a watch repair shop.
It would be easy for director and writer Dustin Guy Defa to craft a few exceptional circumstances to try and bolster excitement, what makes the film work so well is that every storyline feels as if it could unfold naturally. We watch characters eat breakfast, have drinks, walk around and converse with each other as if the audience is merely a fly on the wall as these people go about their day. While this can occasionally results in a bit of a lull (even with a brief runtime of 90 minutes), it serves to help these characters feel lived-in, and it feels as if these are real people you could walk past at any given time.
A blessing and a curse of the ensemble film often lies in the way the widespread group of characters are pieced together. How the characters know or relate to each other is often a lynchpin of the genre, but refreshingly Defa avoids the device entirely. One of the primary plotlines involve a potential murder investigation, and while a couple of the characters cross paths, it never feels forced. Most of the people in Person to Person never interact with one another, and it helps the film feel grounded, and cleverly avoids the pitfall of a dramatic reveal that may never pay off.
Person to Person is fascinated by the everyday, and while there are a few bizarre moments (including one of the best chase sequences I’ve seen), everything feels grounded in its New York City landscape. For the most part, the film is lovely- pure, charming, and witty. It’s the cinematic equivalent of sitting with some friends around a fire. A delight.