A sweet, light puff of a movie, Person To Person succeeds on the strength of its affection for shaggy-dog stories and the personalities who waltz in and out of them. In theory, it’s the sort of indie that’s already been done to death: an ensemble-cast love letter to the prickly character of New York. (Even worse, it’s shot on fuzzy Super 16mm.) But writer-director Dustin Guy Defa, a prolific director of short films making his first feature since 2011’s Bad Fever, has developed a feel for American eccentricity that brings to mind Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater in its best moments, albeit in a scruffier style. Taking its title from a superb, more or less unrelated short that Defa directed in 2014, the movie follows several stories, which are set over the course of a single day but don’t always overlap. It’s a film of ephemeral pleasures, adorned in a rich variety of voices, non-verbal gestures, and speech patterns: unfussy, unrushed, at times very funny.
The most conventionally dramatic of these occasionally intersecting narratives, in which a dorky, metal-bass-playing crime reporter (Michael Cera) and his trainee (Abbi Jacobson) hustle for information about a suspicious death, is also the least interesting, while the pokiest—which follows a hepcat record collector (Bene Coopersmith, who also starred in the short) as he considers the purchase of a rare Charlie Parker LP and mulls over telling his girlfriend that he loves her—is consistently delightful. This speaks to the ease with which Person To Person can luxuriate in non-events, like Coopersmith’s character (also named Bene) asking the owners of a bodega their opinion of his new floral-print shirt or a still-aspiring Casanova (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) telling a story about sleeping with a woman who also slept with Frank Sinatra. A lot of it depends on presence—especially when it comes to the balding, bespectacled, bearded Coopersmith, a real-life Brooklyn record store owner with enough confidence and easygoing personality to sustain a feature of his own.
And then there’s Bene’s buddy Ray (George Sample III, terrifically droll), avoiding an ass-whooping that he knows he deserves; teen Wendy (Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson) rolling her eyes while her best friend makes out with a doofus; a cranky watch repairman (Philip Baker Hall) trying to go about his business; and, somewhere in there, a raggedly funny bicycle chase scene. Person To Person is the sort of movie that’s too breezy to admit to having a thesis, and yet all of its narratives touch in some way on authenticity—whether it’s Wendy’s feelings about her sexuality, Bene’s dilemma of expressing his true feelings or buying a possibly bogus record, or the old art of watch repair. Of course, it’s a question that dozens of New York-set indies have posed for themselves over the years, but few of them answer it as organically as Person To Person.