Sundance 2017: Golden Exits, by David Bax
In the first full scene of Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits, a palpable tension hangs over the seemingly innocuous preparation for a small dinner party. An archivist named Nick (Adam Horovitz) is about to introduce to his wife Aly (Chloe Sevigny) and her sister Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker) the assistant he’s hired to work with him over the next few months, Naomi (Emily Browning). Before the young woman even arrives, suspicions and accusations hang in the air, yet they remain unspoken. Of course they do; in Perry’s cerebral but yearning movie, everyone talks constantly but no one ever says what’s really on their mind.
Set sometime in the mid-1990s, Golden Exits is one those disbelief-suspending, multi-thread movies in which the characters are all separated by one or two degrees but never quite realize it. Luckily, Perry is smart enough to not get too cute with the coincidences and near-misses. Naomi, an Australian, only has one friend in New York, Buddy (Jason Schwartzmen), whose friend Greg (Craig Butta) is also friends with Nick, whose sister-in-law Gwen employs a personal assistant named Sam (Lily Rabe), whose own sister is Jess (Analeigh Tipton), Buddy’s wife.
On a lunch break with Nick one day, Naomi remarks, “People never make films about ordinary people who don’t do anything.” Golden Exits is only half an answer to that challenge. Though no one does much of anything, these characters are far from ordinary. Naomi, the film’s nexus, is self-assured but enigmatic while also falling into the role of femme fatale; “She’s a death trap to losers like us,” Nick says to his friends. Nick, on the other hand, is a sad man most would find boring but who repeatedly refers to mundane things as “thrilling” and seems to believe it. Each character, in one way or another, represents a facet of Perry’s dim view of the genders. The women never say what they mean and the men can’t be trusted even if they do. Social interactions, even with the people to whom you are closest, are thus labyrinths to be navigated.
Perry’s aesthetic choice are also designed to obscure clarity. The film is grainy–warmly and beautifully so–while the sound design is such that everything is more or less at the level of room tone. When Gwen empties a box of cookies onto a plate, the noise of it nearly drowns out her dialogue. Meanwhile, the slow piano score by Keegan DeWitt is so quiet and constant as to become almost subliminal.
Each of the main characters in Golden Exits falls into age categories at roughly ten-year intervals. Naomi is in her mid-20s, Buddy, Sam and Jess are in their mid-30s and Nick, Aly and Gwen are in their mid-40s. There’s a 20th Century Women-like generational overview to this conceit but that’s not Perry’s main concern. He wants us to see how, whether looking backward and forward in life, we often don’t see other people. We see only projections of ourselves and our hopes and fears. If only we could stop talking long enough to say something honest.