An Invisible Man, by Tyler Smith
Alex Karpovsky’s Rubberneck is a quiet, subtle study in loneliness and desperation for a good portion of its short running time. The small details that make up the life of our melancholy protagonist are given as much weight as the short, awkward conversations that he has with the people around him. The music is tragic, yet surprisingly matter-of-fact, giving the film an unsentimental tone. Our hearts go out to the young man, whose existence is so unimportant- so utterly forgettable- that we can’t help but try to understand him, if only because nobody else does.
Unfortunately, the film that was previously so content to slowly reveal pieces of information, allowing the complete picture to gradually come into focus, starts to explain itself overtly. Eventually the film becomes a sympathetic, sensitive study in pop psychology.
The film is about a lowly research scientist named Paul in Boston who engages in a weekend of sex and passion with a co-worker. He attempts to continue the relationship, but she’s not interested. So, the months go by, and he is forced to see this woman every day, wondering what he did to drive her away. She eventually becomes involved with another co-worker and it becomes more than Paul can stand.
I will not reveal where the film goes from there, but it likely won’t be a surprise. Tales of romantic obsession often lead to the same place. However, as predicable as the outcome may be, I feel like Rubberneck earns it by creating a character who is so introverted, so controlled that we know it’s only a matter of time before he goes off.
Karpovsky’s performance as Paul is appropriately subdued. The nature of the character is his tendency to fade into the background. As such, we feel like we don’t really know him, as he often disappears before our eyes. In many ways, we all know this man. Most likely, we work or have worked with him. He has hobbies, but they’re not particularly interesting. He seems to understand humor, but can’t seem to replicate it. He’s pleasant, but seldom enjoyable. This is not an easy character type to play, as it requires the actor to shed whatever charisma or charm he may have and replace it with… well, nothing. Karpovsky is able to do this while also making us care about this man; not an easy thing to do.
Which makes the ending so frustrating. While it is handled fairly well, it all works out a little too easily. As Paul’s painful childhood is revealed, everything lines up a little too neatly. It all falls into place, which is not something that one would expect- or want- at the end of a subtle, nuanced film such as this.
I’m not sure if I would go so far as to say that the film shoots itself in the foot. The ending is interesting from a character standpoint and it is always fascinating to find oneself sympathizing with somebody that has done something horrible. I just wish the film had been content to end its story the way he started it: with brief glances and things almost said, but suppressed. Still, Rubberneck is directed with a very sure hand by Alex Karpovsky, whose attention to detail- both physical and emotional- makes this a memorable, tense film that is worth the time.