Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Both the new This Is Where I Leave You and last week’s The Skeleton Twins are about brothers and sisters. For the next five days, we single out more films that highlight that unique relationship.
Everybody else sucks. It’s partially true, but it’s also one of those things that people tell themselves in order to come to grips with their loneliness and contempt. On the strength of his first three features, Alex Ross Perry has become American cinema’s poet laureate of that sweet notion, tackling the age-old frustrations of academics and other misanthropes with a uniquely millennial charm offensive.
More so even than his debut Impolex or the forthcoming, brilliantly bitter Listen Up Philip, 2011’s The Color Wheel is the purest distillation of Perry’s approach to other people. Unfortunately, writing about the movie for readers who ostensibly haven’t seen it is an exercise in misdirection. Reducing the film to its basics, The Color Wheel is the story of Colin (Perry) and his sister JR (Carlen Altman), two twentysomething siblings who embark on a road trip to move her stuff out of her ex-boyfriend’s house. Their relationship is a bit strained, as these two severely similar people have convinced themselves that they have very different perspectives on the world. She wants to be a local news anchor. He wants to be nothing (if only because that makes it easier to mock everyone for their choices). Suffice to say, Colin and JR are in a very different place by the time the movie comes to a rather abrupt end some 82 minutes later.
To some extent, The Color Wheel is a romantic comedy in which the leads are related to each other by blood. For much of the film, Colin and JR’s relationship so mimics the genre’s classic trajectory that they might as well be played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. A vaguely transgressive feeling hangs around the fringe of each frame like a phantom smell. Adding to that sense is the fact that the movie was shot to look like an old home video’s nightmare; cinematographer Sean Williams captures the reconciliatory road trip on a stressed, almost hallucinatory black-and-white 16mm film stock.
Almost every moment of the film is hilarious in one way or another, but the humor is so unsparingly true that it’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, in much the same way that no one ever really laughs while looking in the mirror. Even if its details don’t reflect a common reality, The Color Wheel is nevertheless a caustically honest portrait of how complicated it can be to love oneself.
Available on: The Color Wheel is available on DVD, and to rent or purchase digitally through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.