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Tense, Moody 'Golden Exits' Finds Drama In Everyday Gossip And Betrayal


This is FRESH AIR. The 33-year-old indie writer-director Alex Ross Perry has become a critical favorite at film festivals with films like "The Color Wheel," "Listen Up Philip" and "Queen Of Earth." Last year, he was at Sundance with his fifth feature, an ensemble piece set in Brooklyn called "Golden Exits" starring Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker and Emily Browning. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Like an edgier, more experimentally inclined Noah Baumbach, the writer-director director Alex Ross Perry has a great talent for capturing different shades of self-loathing on screen. His earlier films like "Queen Of Earth" and "Listen Up Philip" had the blistering tension and the itchy, formal rawness of a John Cassavetes psychodrama. His new movie, the moodily enveloping "Golden Exits," feels gentler in tone and spirit, more melancholy than abrasive. The spirit of Eric Rohmer, the French new-wave master revered for his wise, talky character studies, seems to glow in every frame.

"Golden Exits" spends a few months in the lives of six moderately unhappy Brooklynites and a visitor whose arrival throws their existential confusion into sharp relief. The movie, lovingly shot on 16-millimeter film by Sean Price Williams, is both meandering and tightly structured. It drifts from one intimate conversation to the next, hovering at the brink of drama without ever quite tumbling in.

Perry finds the tension in the in-between moments, in the layers of gossip, suspicion and everyday betrayal that accumulate between people who've known each other too long. He knows that talk can be every bit as revealing as action, if not more so. And he writes the kind of leisurely literate dialogue that feels like it's gone out of fashion in American movies. One of the film's best scenes unfolds between two sisters, Jess played by Analeigh Tipton and Sam played by Lily Rabe. Musing about her dissatisfaction with her job and singlehood, Sam distills the story's atmosphere of free-floating discontent into one gently piercing monologue.


LILY RABE: (As Sam) I should give notice. I will give notice.

ANALEIGH TIPTON: (As Jess) Cut your loss the situation.

RABE: (As Sam) I should cut my losses. I wanted to be upward. Instead I am a glorified personal assistant. I look at women like her. We do. Our age does. And what should we see - aspirational ideals, examples of a lifestyle that you believe in. So she's unmarried. That's great, right? And you are married - also great, right? And I want to feel adrift in some nebulous middle ground. Where am I? OK, so where am I - not early 30s, not 40s - just wasteland in the middle.

TIPTON: (As Jess) Heavy handed and dramatic - minus five points.

RABE: (As Sam) What a delight it must be to function as my sole outlet for never-ending barrage of introspective blather regarding the choices that I have made.

TIPTON: (As Jess) I didn't know I had a choice. Do I have a choice?

CHANG: That lovely score you hear in the background was composed by Keegan DeWitt, and it churns beneath nearly every moment, almost subliminally reinforcing the connections between the characters, expressing through music what they struggle to articulate in words.

Nick, a middle-aged archivist played by Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, seems to have long since resigned himself to a life of polite unhappiness with his wife, Alyssa, a psychologist played by Chloe Sevigny. Their gloomy existence is regularly shaken up by Alyssa's hypercritical sister, Gwen, played by a wickedly acerbic Mary-Louise Parker. Nick is presently organizing an enormous trove of documents left behind by Alyssa and Gwen's late father, a job so time-consuming that he's hired Naomi, a 20-something who's visiting New York from Australia to help him out. As wonderfully played by Emily Browning, Naomi is the most grounded of nomadic spirits, at once eager to make new friends and entirely comfortable with solitude. She's also attractive enough that the words dramatic catalyst might as well be stamped on her forehead.

Alyssa and Gwen have reason to be suspicious of Nick spending nine hours a day cooped up in his basement office with this young beauty, but Naomi seems more interested in spending time with Buddy, an old family friend she hasn't seen since childhood played by Jason Schwartzman. Buddy is married to Jess, whom we heard talking earlier to her sister Sam. But you sense that if he were single, he might very well act on his own ill-concealed desires. But Naomi turns out to be wiser and more assertive than her relative youth might imply. And for all the sexual tension coursing through "Golden Exits," Perry doesn't steer his characters toward any of the obvious romantic or farcical complications.

"Golden Exits" runs a fleet 94 minutes, but it leaves you with the uncanny feeling that the lives on display will continue to shift and unravel beyond the frame. If I had to guess at what the title means, I'd say it's the warm play of afternoon light in the shots of Brooklyn's street life that bookend the movie, easing us in and out of a story where not much happens and yet everything seems to be at stake.

DAVIES: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. On tomorrow's show, we'll talk about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Mueller indictments with Scott Shane of The New York Times. He says the Russian social media campaign reached millions of Americans.

SCOTT SHANE: If you are provocative, if you are emotional, if you are extreme, you can stir up a whole lot of trouble.

DAVIES: He says the effort to divide Americans is still underway - hope you can join us.


DAVIES: Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


Justin Chang is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Fresh Air, and a regular contributor to KPCC's FilmWeek. He previously served as chief film critic and editor of film reviews for Variety.