Writer-director Dustin Guy Defa achieves something quite remarkable in “Person to Person”: A dialogue-driven film following more than a dozen characters during the course of one day in New York City, with not one convincing situation or performance.
When you have actors such as Michael Cera, Philip Baker Hall and rising comedian/actress Abbi Jacobson, that’s hard to do.
Cera and Jacobson are newspaper reporters, and it’s clear they never did a lick of research or have ever been in a newsroom. Heck, watching a good newspaper movie like “Spotlight” would have yielded a pointer or two. They find themselves investigating a suicide that could be murder, with an antique shop owner/watch repairman (Hall) possibly providing a valuable clue, as they follow a suspicious-acting widow (Michaela Watkins) and two NYPD detectives assigned to the case.
There are three other main threads: Two girls (Tavi Gevinson, Olivia Luccardi) skip high school for the day, discuss their increasingly strained relationship and hang out with a couple of guys; a collector of rare records (Bene Coopersmith) is trying to track down a crook (Buddy Duress) who sold him a fake rare Charlie Parker record; and the collector’s roommate (George Sample III) is in hot water with his ex-girlfriend (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and her brother (Brian Tyree Henry) after he posts nude pictures of her online in revenge for the breakup.
Despite these plotlines that suggest dramatic conflict, “Person to Person” is an oddly low-key, almost gentle film with characters generating no real threat to do anything interesting. At 84 minutes, it seems padded out.
It actually evokes the feeling of an indie film from the 1990s, shot on 16mm and following a group of quirky characters (a la “Slacker” or “The Daytrippers,” two superior movie from that era).
In this case, the Big Apple has never looked so small and inconsequential.
‘PERSON TO PERSON’
Starring: Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Philip Baker Hall
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Theaters: AFS Cinema