Nostalgia is a cash cow in today’s film market. Audiences are vocal about their love and/or hatred for a variety of throwbacks, from resurrecting beloved television series to attempts to capture film noir. During a Q&A following the AFI screening of Aaron Katz’s Gemini, the director explained that the feature was inspired by “Showtime movies” commonly seen in the ’80s and ’90s, and that’s the best summation of the feature. Gemini’s Hollywood story has its roots in chintzy made-for-TV “mistaken identity” thrillers and holds its own through a passionate connection to its origins.
Jill (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant for Hollywood starlet Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz). Heather’s demeanor starts to change and she decides to quit some upcoming projects, asking Jill if she can procure a gun for her. Heather soon ends up dead, leaving Jill the prime suspect as far as Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) is concerned, forcing the terrified assistant to go on the run to clear her name.
As palm trees sway over a blue Los Angeles night sky to a smooth ’80s synth score it wouldn’t be shocking to assume Aaron Katz is influenced by Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Both this and the Ryan Gosling-starrer spotlight various Los Angeles locales with an detached eye towards cool crime. It wouldn’t be an ’80s-esque crime thriller without being a Hollywood story. Despite their glamorous origins the audience meets Jill and Heather at a chintzy diner where “apps” are on the menu. Heather, played with an effortless grace by Kravitz, is a celebrity of note; she has fans willing to go to great lengths to copy her hairstyle and look. Like any good early ’90s thriller the fear here comes from the perils of fame, and how fame by association can instill terror.
Lola Kirke as the lead might be a head-scratcher considering her previous roles have presented her as a babe in the woods. As Jill she’s smart, but has allowed herself to enter into a codependent relationship with Heather that results in her truly mourning the loss of a friend more than an employer. Kravitz and Kirke act comfortable around each other, a necessity to justify spending time watching them do karaoke and chat about Seventeen magazine. (This isn’t said as a critique, but if you’re looking for a speedy thriller Gemini isn’t quite it.) Once Kirke turns into Richard Kimble and goes on the run the rest of the time is spent finding the killer. For his part, John Cho works with the smallest of characterizations. He’s the detective, but there’s little suspense – possibly due to the budget running low. He disappears with little more than a sad smile by the end, but he makes an impact in the time he has.
Gemini comes to life when it embraces its noirish roots. Jill looks like an average girl, but she takes to breaking and entering, and putting on a fake Valley girl accent to garner information very easily. She’s Nancy Drew with a Hollywood address. The lean script puts out a finite list of suspects, several of whom are purely names and cameos, like Reeve Carney’s ex-boyfriend character Devin. There’s a tacit awareness of the narrative conventions of the genre evoked through the character of Greg (Nelson Franklin), who deliberately points out the film’s red herrings. Had Gemini decided to stick to deconstructing and lampooning its genre conventions it would certainly have helped cushion the blow.
Gemini’s biggest failure is found with its ending that suffers from the limitations of budget more than Katz’s comprehension of the material. Jill tries to solve Heather’s murder, but too much of the movie is built on sand-like threads of information. Heather is “scared,” but of what we’re never told. Sure, nearly everyone has threatened to murder her, but it’s all talk. There’s no history presented to justify her fear short of paranoia, and the film never indulges that because Heather is too quickly shuffled off the mortal coil. By the time the truth is revealed it plays like Katz threw up his hands and gave up.
Keegan DeWitt’s score is worthy of special consideration. He perfectly showcases the aesthetic of late ’80s-early ’90s noirs with his synth-heavy composition that perfectly pairs up with the Los Angeles landscape. If you enjoyed Drive’s soundtrack, the music from Gemini is worth a purchase.
Katz creates something special with Gemini, but finances undercook it. Had the script been given time to blossom it could easily situate itself in the pantheon of modern throwbacks. As it stands the cast work well together, the score is impeccable, and the movie evokes a feeling for a time when movies made for TV had skill and craft. I am interested in seeing Katz develop as a director. Gemini isn’t flawless, but it’s a film that whets the appetite.