Namechecked on various year-end critics’ polls, Alex Ross Perry’s sophomore feature treads several recognizable paths: The story, about a brother (Perry) and sister (Carlen Altman) taking a car trip through New England, is pure Road Movie 101. Its style, particularly the gorgeously grainy black-and-white cinematography by Sean Price Williams, could not be more reminiscent of the Direct Cinema–early Cassavetes era of independent filmmaking; the movie’s whateversville vibe establishes it as a textbook example of today’s microbudget indies. Don’t think that this sibling cringe-dramedy is nothing but the sum of its influences, however. The endless snark that’s supposed to pass for cutting banter, the shrugging formlessness that’s somehow mistaken for realism, and line readings that range between low-level mumblecore and hi-level cinema du Ed Wood; those elements belong solely to this example of teeth-grating hipsterism at its most fallow.
You’ve seen such straight-outta-Brooklyn back-patting cleverness before—a whole movement’s worth, in fact—but rarely in such high dosages and so heavily in the irritation-meter red. Perry’s omega-male creep and Altman’s arch pariah act are neither played as nor designed to be likable, yet the film still tries to portray them as shambling but charming messes; it wants to feed you rancid cake and have you like it, too. An uncomfortable carnal tension acts as an undertow to the usual twentysomething blathering, but a sudden left turn into subversive territory only suggests that Perry knows where the Pasolini shelf is at his local video store. Some will call The Color Wheel daring. Others will remember that it takes more than desperate shocks to add substance to the sloppy diddlings of a dilettante.
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