PERSON TO PERSON

The Human Touch

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(The Maryland Film Festival kicked off May 3 and ran through the week to May 7. Our own Chris Reed lives in Maryland and will be all over the fest like tourists on a crab buffet so stay tuned.)

Actor/writer/director/editor (what does this man not do?) Dustin Guy Defa (Bad Fever) delivers an enjoyably peculiar meditation on the awkwardness (and, therefore, absolute necessity) of genuine human interaction in the modern era. Whether one is distracted (or led astray) by technology or just generally bad at connecting, one must discover some means of navigating the social fabric of real life. An adaptation of his 2014 short film, Person to Person gives us lost souls searching for meaning in a narrative that mixes gentle comedy and light pathos in an understated combination with a deceptively mild payoff. Though at first the emotional stakes may seem low, the more one thinks about the movie the more its profound truths resonate beyond its narrative limits.

We follow three main groups of characters, each with their own plot threads that diverge and converge over the space of the film’s brisk 84 minutes. Among the appealing cast we find Michael Cera (Magic Magic) as Phil, a socially inept journalist who takes his new assistant, Claire (Abbi Jacobson, of Broad City) with him on her first day so he can both pursue a story and … her. There’s Bene (Bene Coopersmith, star of the original short), a jazz collector who wakes up one morning to a phone call from someone offering him a great deal on a classic Charlie Parker LP. His best friend and roommate, Ray (George Sample III, Hunter Gatherer), is a depressive who just recently posted naked photos of an ex-girlfriend online, and is now the target of revenge from that woman’s brother. And then there’s Wendy (Tavi Gevinson, Enough Said), a sexually confused young teen who plays hooky with her best friend only to find that friend more interested in partying with a boyfriend than with her.

Along the way, the supporting cast includes other strong actors like Philip Baker Hall (People Like Us), as the owner of a watch-repair store that functions a little like the neighborhood cigar shop in Wayne Wang’s 1995 Smoke; Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Clay Davis on HBO’s The Wire) as one of the locals who hangs out there; and Michaela Watkins (In a World) as a woman who may or may not have killed her husband. The three main stories do not intersect, plot-wise. Thematically, however, they form a cohesive tapestry of slowly shifting ennui and malaise that, for those within each tale willing to change, resolves by the end in a shift towards more meaningful relationships. Sweet and lovely, Person to Person teaches us to look at one another face to face, whatever comes.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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