Golden Exits, the new drama from indie writer-director Alex Ross Perry, feels like both a departure from the filmmaker’s previous work and the natural extension of it. Often tightly focusing on the relationship between two characters – such as the toxic friendship in his 2015 chamber piece Queen of Earth, or the bickering siblings of his second feature, 2011’s The Colour Wheel – Perry adds more to the mix in his latest offering. This time there are two different families under the microscope; a vast web of connections with plenty more opportunities for rivalry, jealousy and betrayal.
Perry and his crew (he’s worked with the same collaborators for three consecutive movies) set out to do things differently with each new project. “Whether it’s an actor, editor or wardrobe designer, the question for me is always ‘what did we not do last time?’ I give myself the challenge as a writer, and then as a director on set as well.” Where Queen of Earth had the potency of an Ingmar Bergman movie, the camera clinging to its leads in close ups so tight they seemed to double as psychological exams, Golden Exits pulls the focus back.
The story unfolds on the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn in the spring, roving through neighbourhood delis, basement offices and the spacious homes of the borough’s middle classes. Here we meet Nick (played by the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz), a 40-something archivist whose current project is cataloguing effects belonging to his late father-in-law. He’s enlisted the help of 25-year-old Naomi (Emily Browning), fresh off the plane from Australia, as his assistant – a choice that raises suspicions amongst Nick’s wife Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny) and her thorny sister, Gwen (played to sardonic perfection by Mary-Louise Parker). Naomi is just the latest in a string of young females Nick has employed. “Do women make better archivists, I wonder?” Gwen deadpans. In case you hadn’t guessed, Nick hasn’t always been faithful.
Meanwhile, Naomi seeks out her only New York connection, Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), a family friend who she hasn’t seen since they were kids. A little older than her, he now runs a recording studio with his wife, Jess (Analeigh Tipton), but finds himself drawn to the easygoing newcomer. Jess’ sister Sam (Lily Rabe) is also on the scene, a PA with an unexpected connection to the first family.
In the strange symmetry created by these characters, youth’s opportunities sit side-by-side with the looming regrets of middle age, and outmoded assumptions carry with them potentially perilous consequences.
“I wanted to write my version of a character I have seen and loved in many films. The classic [Eric] Rohmer heroine, a fish out of water for some finite period of time. Originally I described the character to Emily [Browning] in terms of Loulou, the [Maurice] Pialat movie. But she moved away from that. She is the victim of assumptions and that is exactly the point. Alyssa thinks one thing about her. Gwen thinks another. Nick thinks another. But does anybody ask who she is?”
Golden Exits is indebted to Rohmer, channeling the late French director’s literary sensibility and observational smarts into a richly textured narrative of desire and disappointment. The film’s characters are thoughtful and articulate; the pacing is deliciously languorous.
“I wanted to see these long speeches where you know the character is only giving whomever they are talking to half the story. Filming was easy: shut up and let these amazing actors do their thing.”
Perry’s cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, shot it on Super 16mm and drew inspiration from the French New Wave, as well as the “lush, romantic” photography of Todd Haynes’ Carol. The frequent collaborators, who met while working at legendary video store Kim’s in the East Village, are avid cinephiles. “We just dig into the history of cinema and feel compelled to try and contribute to it.” Golden Exits is not made for 2018 models of distribution or production. “It’s made to exist on a shelf for the next few decades.”
Emerging as it does into a cultural moment that’s just beginning to examine the way workplaces can become poisonous environments for women, the exploration of power differentials in the film feels timely. But Perry’s contemplative directing, and the nuanced performances from his cast, have their roots in the delicate existentialism of films gone by.
“It’s agony to live with the uncertainty that exists between finishing [the film] and this time, where anybody anywhere with iTunes can find the movie. I hope people continue to discover it after this initial moment, but that’s always the gamble. It’s related to a line that resonates with me from Sunday In the Park With George. I may be paraphrasing, but when pressed about finally exhibiting his new work, George says ‘it’s nearly finished and I would like people to see it’. That’s all there is. Simple as that. Words to live by.”
Golden Exits opens this weekend at Metrograph in NYC and will be available on iTunes.