Person to Person
Directed by Dustin Guy Defa
Follows a variety of New York characters as they navigate personal relationships and unexpected problems over the course of one day.
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★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
Dustin Guy Defa’s “Person to Person” is a gentle summer breeze of a movie that’s set during an early fall day. Amiably unstuck in time without feeling anachronistic, Defa’s second feature pulls off the trick of offering an analog version of New York in a digital age. Threading together enough vignettes to compete with a young Paul Thomas Anderson, Defa bounces between a motley crew of characters, all of whom are living together on their own time. On their own, they don’t add up to much, but play them together and they cohere into the cinematic equivalent of vinyl.
★★★★ review by Patrick Devitt on Letterboxd
yes, this is the best movie ever made.
★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd
An utter delight. A film that probably shouldn't work. It's all over the place yet disciplined. It projects a sense of cool indifference about its characters and its plotlines until you realize that everything was worked through to the very end, and everyone depicted in the film was shaped with great affection. You think all the stories are going to intersect. You worry. Then you suspect that none of the stories will actually intersect. You're relieved, even if that leads to a feeling of hip detachment. Then the kicker. Two stories briefly intersect, and two do not. A solution you never saw coming.
The title of Person to Person describes director Dustin Guy Defa's fundamental method of building the film, moving through the city and across time not so much according to narrative logic but as individuals encounter one another and their competing motivations and wholly incompatible worlds bounce off each other. (This is a film that exhibits the timing of a farce, and yet its structure is one that might well have been generated through improv exercises.)
But "person to person" is also an old-fashioned type of operator-assisted telephone call. If you didn't reach the specific person you were calling, you were not charged. In light of this, I think about the film's relationships in terms of determination and intent versus a willingness to take what you get in life. You encounter people along the way, but are they the specific ones you need?
If there is one possible constant in Person to Person, it's that the longer you are alive, the more secure you become in who you are. Someone like Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall), the watch repair shop owner, is not going to do anything he doesn't want to, whereas Claire (Abbi Jacobson) entreats him to help her out and give her a scoop regarding a possible murder case, so she can figure out if she even wants to be a reporter. Likewise, Phil (Michael Cera) wants to motivate Claire to be successful because he's attracted to her, but also because that would mean he is a good mentor, something he needs to believe about himself.
Then you have the two roommates. Bene (Bene Coopersmith), a jazz nerd, is excited to have found a guy selling a rare Charlie Parker LP. But when he finds out it's a fake, he chases the crook halfway across town in a mid-speed bicycle chase. (The two men's pause to walk their bikes down subway platform stairs is priceless.) Meanwhile, his buddy Ray (George Sample III) is on the run from his ex-girlfriend's brother for an untoward post-breakup maneuver. While Defa doesn't make too much of it, Bene and Ray are a clear contrast where integrity is concerned.
Finally, the two young women, Melanie (Olivia Luccardi) and Wendy (Tavi Gevinson), are a comic interrogation of the problem of loyalty between girlfriends when one becomes involved in a relationship. Defa plays his hand rather broadly here, but to strong comic effect. Melanie is seeing the blandest dude imaginable; she actually becomes duller in his presence. Meanwhile, it is painfully obvious that the bitter, sardonic Wendy is in love with Melanie. (Her queerness is confirmed in the course of the film.) But, out of a desire to challenge her comfort zone, she hooks up with the tagalong best friend (Ben Rosenfield). It goes nowhere, but it's more of a risk than anyone else is taking.
Simply by lining up all of these pairs and quartets, contrasts and dualities, I am in jeopardy of taking Person to Person more seriously than it takes itself. Yes, it is structurally sound, bearing a surface resemblance to certain more serious cinema -- Woody Allen, perhaps, or Noah Baumbach. But Defa's film is fleet of foot, light as a soufflé, and skronky like free jazz.
★★★★ review by Neil Bahadur on Letterboxd
"I detest the way you detest people."
"I know, and I love you for that."
Maybe some more elaborate thoughts later, but what this film doing structurally is remarkable - nothing of these character arcs connect narratively with any of the others, and there's no reason to: each experience concludes that we're all still learning. But how this is demonstrated is so fresh - everyone is talking about the casting but it's Defa's innovative editing which blows this out of the water. Sequences are structured towards a gradual build of gentle but persuasive intensity, resulting in an equal resolve of sequences but yet one which elides catharsis. This plays like a take on Griffithian cross-cutting, but rather than have individual sequences complement each other, they can sometimes contradict a musing we heard in one previous, or be of a completely different emotional tone - yet never leaving the films considerate mood as a whole, even when the film is at its most provocative - so much to the point that it almost tricks you into thinking it's not. Even when a story actually does intersect, it feels like an accident.
With such a structure Defa makes a film which captures the ups and downs, musings and inquires of the space of a single day (24 hours? The sun never seems to set...) with sometimes this disparity manifesting within a singular arc itself - the Cera/Jacobson one, ostensibly the goofiest (and this film is very funny) also is the most suspect regarding how one character relates to another, but the most disquieting aspect stems from a storyline about a character who uploads nude photos of their ex to the internet. Though it's oddly the only arc of the film to address the existence of digital technology (though the importance of a text message becomes a key 'plot' point in a later section of an arc) the moral blackout of this section does not throw the film off kilter but rather balances it. Everything in the film seems like 'growing pains,' necessary experiences, but this is the one which reminds us - you do have a 'choice'.
"You made it so that we can't ever be together again, you know that? You killed it."
Not that the film is 'perfect' - the Tavi Gevinson arc, while handled with exquisite sensitivity, is also one that we've seen in thousands of other films, but even so it's this balance between sensitivity and nonchalance which in part makes this film so special - it bleeds into the form of the film: this is an innovative work, but it doesn't dare be in your face about it.
"Yeah...I got love for you. Big love. Whole lotta love."
★★★★½ review by Graham L. Carter on Letterboxd
fabulous, lovely, wonderful, sweet. loved it thank you very much
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