Aaron Katz's Quiet City follows the rough template of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise: Two strangers meet in an exotic, romantic city. They banter, flirt, and exchange ideas, until their relationship slowly but surely coalesces toward romance. But where Linklater's twentysomething dreamers are excellent talkers, Katz's leads are stumblingly inarticulate. In place of Sunrise's verbal fireworks, the aptly named Quiet offers something more like linguistic sparklers—modest, yes, but charming all the same.
The latest from the "mumblecore" movement—a Dogme-meets-emo subgenre of low-budget, improvisation-heavy films about relationships between angsty young people—the film casts Erin Fisher as an aimless young woman who gravitates toward shaggy-haired stranger Cris Lankenau after failing to meet up with a flaky friend. The film charts Fisher and Lankenau's relationship as they evolve from strangers warily feeling each other out into a tenuous friendship, and possibly something more.
There's a claustrophobic quiet to Fisher and Lankenau hanging out and talking, but Katz breaks it up with painterly shots of trees, sky, and hypnotic big-city lights that make the muted central drama seem insignificant by comparison. Quiet tells a different kind of New York story, one devoid of flash or glitter. Fisher and Lankenau communicate as much through body language as dialogue. Indeed, many of the film's most resonant moments of connection are non-verbal, from the weird, loaded intimacy of an impromptu haircut to a quietly affecting final shot. Far too often, however, Quiet City struggles to elevate its naturalistic take on relationships into something more profound and lasting. Katz has a good feel for the low-key rhythms of everyday life among the slackerati. Hopefully next time out he'll figure out a way to transform that into something approximating art.