Writer/director/actor Alex Karpovsky is a growing presence for younger indies – a bit Woody Allen, a bit of a geek from his own generation. The Lena Dunham regular (“Girls”) reveals a sinister side as a pathetic, intelligent but volatile loser in love in the low-budget “Rubberneck,” which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival (trailer below).
The roots for the plot of “Rubberneck” go back to Hitchcock or Chabrol. Paul is an awkwardly aggressive scientist in Boston who has a one-night-stand with a gorgeous co-worker, Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman). It’s sort of like winning the lottery: no explanation for the good luck, but the odds are huge against sustaining it — don’t bet on winning twice.
But Paul won’t give up, despite advice from a loving sister who lives nearby with her well-meaning son. When Danielle begins an affair with a handsome new scientist at the lab, Paul maneuvers to scuttle that romance, but his efforts to rekindle passions that were never mutual with Danielle lead to an extreme act.
Karpovsky gets at the unease of a lonely rejected misfit, who won’t accept the discouraging truth that a beautiful woman isn’t attracted to him. He knows how to deliver that discomfort to us, in grim increments. He also constructs the drama of Paul’s situation to maximize the daily pain of seeing a co-worker with seeming indifference to how a rejected intimate feels.
The script mechanics of “Rubberneck” unravel when it is revealed why Paul became so attached to the hope of a romance. But most of the way this drama, shot elegantly in what we’re told are the Boston suburbs, is a tense rendering of a slow burn that flies out of control when it’s fueled with hopelessness.