Alex Ross Perry is an independent-film conundrum. The 32-year-old writer-director received very strong reviews for his 2015 dramatic thriller “Queen of Earth” and 2014 Sundance Film Festival entry “Listen Up Philip,” but both films were box office flops, taking in around $90,000 and $200,000, respectively.
Perry’s latest film, “Golden Exits,” premiered Sunday in U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance. The film follows two families in Brooklyn whose social bubble is disrupted by a visiting girl from Australia, played by Emily Browning. The ensemble cast is comprised of Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Lily Rabe and former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.
The prospect of three commercial duds in a row could give any filmmaker a panic attack, but Perry has a sense of humor about his lack of box office prowess.
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“It would be hard to make a third movie as commercially worthless as my last two,” he told IndieWire in a recent interview. “That would be real feat.” “Listen Up Philip” starred Schwartzman as a narcissistic novelist who butts heads with anyone around him, while “Queen of Earth” followed an emotionally unbalanced young woman played by Elisabeth Moss who suffers a psychological breakdown during a visit to a friend’s lake house.
“Golden Exits” was made for less than half of “Listen Up Philip,” which places its budget somewhere between micro and low. Perry approached the film as a side project between the writing jobs that have sustained him, including a live-action adaptation of “Winnie the Pooh” for Disney, adapting the novel “The Names,” and co-writing the drama “Nostalgia” for director Mark Pellington.
Having lowered the financial stakes, Perry decided to go in a completely new creative direction with “Golden Exits,” cutting out the nasty confrontations that his characters seem to encounter at every turn. “This could not be my fourth movie in a row where characters are just arguing with each other for minutes on end,” he said. “It became a movie about all the things people keep inside, and that sort of informed a whole new direction for me.”
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Perry also abandoned his usual preference of shooting with a handheld camera, the style used for nearly every shot of “Listen Up Philip.” “That was a challenge for us, but it gave us a lot of creative ideas that we would never have had before,” he said.
Despite these changes, Perry doesn’t expect “Golden Exits” to have a significant impact on his career, but says he did largely make the movie he had envisioned making. “If people are just not into it, it’s a total misfire and everyone says, ‘You really missed the mark on this,’ my response will be: ‘I didn’t totally miss the mark, but I appreciate where you’re coming from.'”
For filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who served as a producer on both “Golden Exits” and “Queen of Earth,” Perry is a vastly underappreciated filmmaker whose movies have suffered from risk-averse distribution strategies and an unfair perception that he makes “difficult” films.
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“To me, it’s actually embarrassing that we have a filmmaker this good who has received such little support from the industry and from audiences,” Swanberg told IndieWire. He added that Perry’s ability to attract the attention of Disney demonstrates that the independent film community has underestimated his commercial promise.
“That’s basically the most commercial company in the film business looking at this guy’s work and saying, ‘Damn this guy’s a really good writer. We should hire him,’ and then you have a bunch of indie distributors saying, ‘I don’t know,'” Swanberg said. “That’s fucked up!”
“Golden Exits” producer Adam Piotrowicz worked on both “Listen Up Phillip” and “Queen of Earth” and said the cast of “Golden Exits” could help attract a larger audience than his previous two films. “You have so many different relationships covering a wide range of age groups that I feel like it could strike a chord with so many different people,” Piotrowicz said.
He added that regardless of commerciality, Perry is able to accomplish more than most filmmakers who work with similarly small budgets. “Alex’s writing is budget-friendly,” Piotrowicz said. “He thinks about that.”
It’s too early to know whether “Golden Exits” will turn out to be a misfire or a tiny indie with commercial appeal, but Perry isn’t pinning his hopes on the movie’s box office performance. “This movie was made for the sense of trying something new with a bunch of people I like working with,” he said. “I’m not relying on its commercial future for validation of whether or not the whole exercise was worth it.”
“Golden Exits” premiered in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.