A contemporary Cobble Hill riff on Manhattan Murder Mystery, Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries may fly along a familiar path, but it’s sexier, smarter and a hell of a lot more fun. Dusting off the kind of screwball whodunit that the Thin Man series once perfected, this update cleverly clashes old genre tropes against the backdrop of modern Brooklyn. The film opens with a widening iris effect, the noir staple introducing us to Barri and Noah (Takal and Levine), a neurotic neo–Nick and Nora who are blithely unaware of the type of movie they’re in. Noah is frustrated with his film-distribution career, and frustrated further by the fact that his girlfriend, almost 10 years his junior, crackles with the kind of restlessly quixotic energy that men so often crave in crushes but end up resenting in their partners. When an old lady who lives in their building suddenly croaks, Barri suspects foul play but Noah is unconvinced. The game is afoot.
Conflating the rush of amateur sleuthing with the likewise paranoid anxiety of committing romantically to another person, Wild Canaries manages to juggle several different tones with a light touch. Levine’s script is bitingly funny and genuinely suspenseful (often in the same scene), and the film brings out the best from a strong ensemble that’s highlighted by ridiculously winning turns from Annie Parisse and Alia Shawkat as Noah and Barri’s auxiliary love interests. But this story belongs to Levine and Takal (his wife and frequent collaborator), who squabble onscreen with such an unshakable specificity that even the plot’s most outlandish twists feel true. Wild Canaries may be modest stuff, but its madcap misadventures are loaded with honesty, and it earns the conclusion that love never feels like a cage when you fly with the right flock.
Follow David Ehrlich on Twitter: @davidehrlich