Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a 23 year-old New York artist arrives in L.A. to complete a short film for an upcoming exhibit. We see her embracing a lover in the airport parking lot and just before things get too carried away she puts on the brakes and tells him that it was nice meeting him on the plane. This girl is going to be trouble. The opening credits roll as Martine makes her way from the airport, gazing out the window to take everything in as the city rushes by. With a synthy score by Brooklyn duo Fall On Your Sword (who also scored last year’s Sundance hit “Another Earth” as well as director Ry Russo-Young’s first film “You Won’t Miss Me”), L.A. seems really cool. Coming from the confined apartments and gray skies of NYC (in the winter anyway) the wide open spaces of the west coast start to look really attractive. Martine arrives at the beautiful Silverlake house of therapist Julie (Rosemary DeWitt) and sound designer Peter (John Krasinski) who, due to a loose family connection, have agreed to put her up while Peter can helps her complete her film. Julie has two kids from a previous marriage and Peter as portrayed by the always affable Krasinski, decked out in hoodies and sneakers, seems more like a cool older brother than a step-dad.
Though his marriage seems solid, Peter nevertheless is attracted to Martine, who may also be interested in Peter’s young assistant David (Rhys Wakefield). Thirlby has always been cute but with a black-dyed pixie cut and skin tight jeans is physically unrecognizable here. She’s young, she’s cool, she’s reckless and you can see why people around her are drawn to her. The sexual tension in the first third of the picture is nearly unbearable. Peter and Martine spend endless hours working together in close quarters recording sound for her film and things quickly become sensual and taut as a potential tryst would be disastrous for the family. But Peter and Martine aren’t the only ones with sexual chemistry. One of Julie’s patients (Justin Kirk) starts describing his fantasies that involve her during sessions and even Julie’s teenage daughter Kolt’s (India Ennenga) scenes with a much older Italian tutor have an uncomfortable tension present. In addition to the sexual fireworks, there are a few notable faceoffs that occur between members of the same sex. Julie recognizes herself in young Martine but starts to pull away when she senses something is up between her and her husband. DeWitt always knocks it out of the park no matter how small her role and here she is masterfully restrained.
Krasinski is so naturally likable that when Peter explodes in a pivotal scene late in the film, it’s discomforting to see his good natured persona turned dark. Not because Krasinski doesn’t sell the moment but because he sells it all too well. Peter’s outburst is so desperate and clueless, it’s a little painful to watch especially for anyone who’s been in a situation where their feelings weren’t reciprocated. Dylan McDermott shows up briefly as Julie’s rocker ex-husband and the contrast between McDermott’s “man’s man” and Krasinski’s “man boy” creates an interesting dynamic between the characters. And despite all the drama, the film is actually quite funny as well. Scenes transition from the dramatic to the comedic seamlessly and the sharp screenplay by director Russo-Young and co-writer Lena Dunham makes it look easy.
This is Russo-Young’s third feature but her first opportunity working with an A-list cast. Though her previous efforts were exercises in ultra-low budget filmmaking, she makes a remarkably smooth transition here. Considering the filmmaker is barely 30 years-old (and Dunham only 25), the film takes a surprisingly mature view of relationships. Dunham is a divisive figure in the indie-film world, but not having seen her contentious debut, “Tiny Furntiture,” this writer is having a hard time finding an issue with her work here. It would have been easy (and foolish) to tell the story from Martine’s point of view, instead we get an equal view of each of the compelling characters. Consequences are created from acting on impulse but there are no villains here or sitcom resolutions. You may find yourself siding more to one character one minute and embarassed for them the next. Because they live in a beautiful house and are fairly well to do, the film has been simplistically referred to by some as being about “white people problems.” The themes of jealousy and desire are not necessarily new territory to explore but Russo-Young still nails every little moment. Full of humor and humanity, “Nobody Walks” is an emotionally complex, acutely observed and sensual film and in this writer’s opinion, one of the best at the festival. [B]