Alex Ross Perry doesn’t usually go for “nice” characters — from the disaffected siblings at the heart of “The Color Wheel” to Jason Schwartzman’s gleefully abrasive title character in “Listen Up Philip” to the deeply destructive ladies of “Queen of Earth,” the filmmaker has never shown much interest in stories about people who treat each other well. With his intimacy drama “Golden Exits,” Perry strays from his typical fare of people behaving badly to, well, people behaving not quite as badly and certainly with more believable motivation.
Australian student Naomi (Emily Browning) is spending the spring in New York City — Brooklyn, specifically, as much of “Golden Exits” takes place within the confines of Perry’s own Cobble Hill neighborhood — working for Nick (Adam Horowitz, who is mostly out of his depth in the role), an archivist who takes a new assistant every semester to help him with his work. Nick’s latest project is a tough one, involving the archiving and appraising of his dead father-in-law’s voluminous “materials” (don’t you dare say “papers” to Nick, or even “documents”).
Naomi doesn’t know many people in the city, so she’s eager to connect with Nick and his wife Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny) and her sister Gwendolyn (Mary-Louise Parker). She’s also excited to meet up with the adult son of her mother’s college roommate, record producer Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), who is married to Jess (Analeigh Tipton), whose sister is Sam (Lily Rabe), who has her own connections to Gwendolyn. Got that? “Golden Exits” is all about connections, neatly transitioning from overlapping stories to uncomfortably interconnected ones, most of them rooted in Naomi’s arrival.
There’s already a distance between Nick and Alyssa by the time Naomi hits the scene, and Nick’s discomfiting tendency to gawp at his young employee makes the source of Alyssa’s anxiety clear. (Sevigny slips into the role with wonderful, aching ease.) Elsewhere, Jess wonders why Buddy keeps coming home so late.
Initially, and intentionally, vague on what threat Naomi might pose toward either couple, under Perry’s direction Browning shifts almost imperceptibly from a wide-eyed newbie who’s just looking for some pals to someone far more dangerous and volatile. In the film’s press notes, Perry makes it plain that he drew inspiration from the films of Eric Rohmer — Perry has always been refreshingly honest in talking about his influences — and as potentially salacious as the film might sound, “Golden Exits” is hardly an examination of our worst impulses; it’s mostly about the ones that are just plain dumb.
As it was in his twisted and dead clever “Queen of Earth,” it’s the women excel. Browning soars in a role the requires some deft tightrope-walking. Rabe and Tipton are aces as a pair of sisters navigating very different lives, with eerily similar (read: unfulfilled) results. Sevigny is the surprisingly subtle beating heart of the whole affair, while Parker appears to be having a hell of a time being a classic Perry villain.
Sean Price Williams
Although Perry’s screenplay obscures details — we know that Nick was a “bad boy” once upon a time, Naomi makes reference to not getting caught in a shady relationship “again,” what Alyssa and Gwendolyn’s dad did is never explicitly named — the conversations become more direct as the film continues, and not always to good effect. Chats between the film’s sister pairs are solid early on, if only because of the steady work of the film’s actresses, before devolving into overwrought platitudes. They may not be nice, but Perry’s unwillingness to let them stay complicated keeps “Golden Exits” from reaching the next level. For now, it’s just a detour.
“Golden Exits” premiered in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.