I hate Sundance movies. I truly do. Person to Person has Sundance suck up written all over it. Produced by Joe Swanberg, the cast starring Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Philip Baker Hall, and Tavi Gevinson, Dustin Guy Defa’s continuation of his short film of the same title is made to be loved by the Sundance mumblecore crowd. It’s a trifle of a film that certain people who have certain affectations (read: hipsters who like mumblecore) will fall head over heels for, but it offers nothing much in the way of actual insight or content.
This throwback to casual 70s community studies fetishizes Brooklyn in all its hipster glory. Benny is trying to buy an old jazz album printed on red vinyl while figuring out if his shirt is nice. His best friend, Ray, is depressed and trying to lay low after he paid his friend to put revenge porn pictures of Ray’s ex-girlfriend on the internet. A teenager (Tavi Gavinson) imagines she’s in her own version of Ghost World, rejecting everybody before they can reject her first. There’s a pseudo-mystery about two reporters (Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson) investigating a possible murder that can be solved in one clue. None of this really matters to anybody (even the characters on screen), as the film is just an excuse to have things happen to people.
Defa forces his actors to maintain an acting style so disaffected it frequently seems like community theater rather than an intentional choice. The scenarios are silly and weightless yet dark and disturbing (revenge porn is not funny nor is revenge revenge porn). Defa longs for an era when people dealt with their own problems instead of depending on the police, and the police were mildly interested in doing the right thing rather than being called for every minor hassle. Vinyl, manual wristwatches, heavy metal, and sassy vintage shirts are all quaint throwbacks to a bygone era, matching with the style of the movie and the titles.
Being so soaked in hipsterdom (the ironically quaint and the sincerely retro), of course it has an audience for what it does. There are people who want their films to have little to say and nothing to do. Person to Person wants to have a statement that technology repels and pushes people away from each other, but that statement has an inherent egotism to it – that people don’t know how to connect because we’re all staring at our screens. It is, in its way, another anti-technology screed similar to Adam Sandler’s Men, Women and Children…but styled for the Sundance crowd.
Though it, admittedly, does have its moments of comedy, I resented this movie. It’s dull, simplistic, uncreative, and overlong (even at 84 minutes). I also don’t like the smug banality of the mumblecore movement, of which this movie is certainly a piece. I could smell the pine-scented neckbeard oil poisoning the air from the first frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the craft table included artisan toast (very delicious donuts is an actual repeated plot point in this movie). Some people love that style. More power to them.