Coasting, by Josh Long
The most surprising thing about the indie comedy Apartment Troubles is that it’s co-directed by the two lead actresses, Jennifer Prediger (who has appeared in numerous indie films in the last few years), and Jess Weixler (most well known as the lead actress from Teeth). Surprising because these two actresses turned first-time directors have created a film that feels like it comes from a more mature director. It still has moments where it falters, as any filmmaker’s first film does, but on the whole feels like a consistent, well-developed comedy.
The pair play eccentric Bohemian roommates (an artist and an actress – when they find they don’t have enough money for food, they decide that they’re on a “cleanse”) who suddenly find themselves being evicted. Their landlord (Jeffrey Tambor in a hilarious cameo) gives them 30 days to get out but instead of looking for a way to come up with the money, they see “signs from the universe” telling them they should take a trip to LA, getting away from all the problems and negative energy they’re experiencing in New York. Nicole (Weixler) has a wealthy aunt there (Megan Mulally) with whom they can stay. Bonus, she’s a producer/judge on an American Idol style show, and can possibly help Olivia (Prediger) get her big break.
Of course, nothing goes as planned. They are driven from the airport by an unstable man who pops pills as he drives (Will Forte); Nicole’s aunt isn’t expecting them but then becomes uncomfortably amorous towards Olivia; the audition for the star-seeking show turns into a strange performance art piece that leaves the judges underwhelmed. The new slew of West Coast problems leaves them questioning what they’re doing at all, and whether or not they might be bad for each other.
Though it starts the same way as many similar indie movies (young people in the big city are forced to deal with everyday problems), there is a spark of something more interesting here. The characters draw us in from the first time we meet them, they seem real, believable, though eccentric, people. Maybe their eccentricities help to round them out, giving us a tongue-in-cheek criticism of them even as we get to like them. The movie takes not-so-relatable traits and puts them in relatable people. I’m sure it helps that the performances are natural and likeable. The two girls seem like real life friends. For the most part, it’s not a laugh out loud type of comedy. The actors who show up for cameos provide the most comic relief. Mulally’s discontented relationship with her catatonic husband Robert is a highlight.
The movie tends to falter throughout the Los Angeles sequence. The narrative necessary to get them from the airport to the aunt’s to the show and back again is a little muddy. Also, there is a simplicity to the film which is usually nice, but sometimes feels like we’ve left too much out. The film touches briefly on Nicole’s relationship with her parents, but never spends enough time on it for it to feel like a real part of her character. This element and some others like it feel like they almost belong in the movie but don’t quite validate themselves.
It also might help to be clearer on Nicole and Olivia’s relationship. There’s a moment when Mulally’s Aunt Kimberley comes on strong to Olivia, whose only way to dissuade her is to say she’s in a relationship with Nicole. It’s a lie but it was treated so true in the moment, I thought it was possible they had been girlfriends all this time and I just hadn’t noticed. The movie later specifies that it wasn’t true but the fact that I knew too little about their relationship to know for sure is a problem.
The film rounds itself out nicely with their return to New York (and another great scene with Jeffrey Tambor), and ends on a heartwarming note. Flaws aside, it’s a nice story about two friends finding their way in life (maybe with some hints of last year’s fantastic Frances Ha). And it’s quite a treat to see actresses who know what they’re doing both in front of and behind the camera.