Person to Person: Not that personable

C Multi-story drama
Written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa

Dustin Guy Defa wants to be Robert Altman – or at least he wants to make Altman-like movies, with multiple stories weaved together as a portrait of a time and place. But Person to Person is no Nashville. It lacks a theme to tie the separate stories together. Worse, the individual stories range from pretty good to pointless.

These four stories take place in one day in New York City. Two of them have a connection – their protagonists are roommates and best friends. The other two have no relation whatsoever to the rest. The two connected stories are also the two weakest.

Tavi Gevinson carries the best story of the four as Wendy, a sexually ambivalent teenage girl. Her best friend Melanie (Olivia Luccardi) doesn’t suffer from ambivalence; she’s obsessed with her boyfriend and their sex life. To avoid a three’s-a-crowd situation, Melanie tries to hook Wendy up with another boy. That’s not really useful; she hates being manipulated. Besides, almost everyone who knows Wendy assumes she’s a lesbian. She herself isn’t sure. Gevinson (who looks like a young Michele Williams) easily gives the best performance of the film.

The other good story is something of a murder mystery. Neophyte reporter Claire (Abbi Jacobson) takes on her first assignment. A man has been shot in the head, and the cops aren’t sure if it was murder or suicide. Mild and frightened, Claire lacks the aggression needed for the job. She has a more experienced reporter taking her through the ropes (Michael Cera), but he’s really just trying to get into her pants. It’s a good mystery with two interesting characters, but the attempted seduction is so clumsily handled it doesn’t work as comedy or drama.

I’m not sure, but I think one of the stories may have been intended to be a comedy. Ray, a deeply depressed young man (George Semple III), can barely leave his apartment. But he’s in trouble. He posted naked photos of his ex-girlfriend on the Internet. Well, he didn’t actually post the photos himself; he’s so cyberphobic he had to ask a friend to do it. This story feels contrived and foolish through and through. But I will say it has one sweet moment, near the end, involving one of the best ways I could think of for punishing someone for non-consensual pornography.

Bene Coopersmith plays Ray’s roommate, Bene, in the worst of the four stories. I think it’s also the longest – although it may have just felt that way. Bene sets out to buy a rare LP, and gets ripped off. He’s also very insecure about his looks; he can’t decide if his new shirt is right for him, and solicits opinions from everyone he talks to. This story contains a bicycle chase through the streets of New York. That’s nowhere near as exciting as it sounds. in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a worse movie chase. When the film cuts away to another story in the middle of the chase, it’s a relief.

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Person to Person has quite a few good parts. But they don’t fit together, and they get weighed down by the bad.