In this decidedly unmelodious yet deeply affectionate Brooklyn saga, a network of family and familiars become severed to near irreparability with the appearance of a new face in their personal and work space. Channeling Cassavetes (à la Faces and Husbands), Alex Ross Perry again adopts a handheld camerawork worthy of the auteur’s looseness and unsuppressed delirium, wavering unevenly between the hopelessly unhappy characters as they try and fail to navigate their selfish emotions.
Fashioned as a classic ensemble piece, Perry curiously allows little of the dynamics of most classic ensembles affect his work (interwoven drama, neat integration of character), instead his eye is trained on the solipsistic and selfish existence of isolated figures—dominantly, former Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz playing the fortysomething Nick (an inspired bit of stunt casting), a married-yet-lonely archivist who broods alone in his drab office space, and his middle-aged, unmarried sister Gwendolyn (Mary Louise-Parker) who seems dubiously content with life as a bachelorette.
Perry, however, isn’t solely fascinated with middle-age, the tenets of his isolation resonate with Jason Schwartzman’s shaggy thirtysomething. The unhappily married Buddy, whose half-hearted conversations with his wife Jess (Analeigh Tipton) burn with discontent and with the appearance of Naomi (Emily Browning), a twentysomething from Australia who takes a temporary position working in Nick’s office basement. Nick’s long spurned wife, Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), and sister suspect he has ulterior motives for hiring the beautiful fresh-faced Naomi, and with good reason as Nick’s eyes follow the much younger woman a little too closely. Naomi, on the other hand, seems drawn to Buddy, who has precariously taken it upon himself to chaperone the impressionable young woman.
Not merely there to stir things up for the somber bourgeois characters, Naomi becomes a fully defined character herself. Living out her days freely in an exciting and foreign place that starts to feel terribly mundane, she inherits the unfortunate role of reflecting the unhappiness of the characters she meets, the very sight of her youthfulness forces the discontented Brooklynites to ruminate on what could have been.
Removed from Golden Exits are the landmarks typically associated with Brooklyn (I don’t even recall seeing the Brooklyn Bridge once in the film), there are certainly none of the romantic wide shots made iconic by Woody Allen. Here, it’s done with the express purpose of de-romanticizing one of the most staunchly romantic of settings, capturing best Naomi’s disappointment that the New York she found herself in isn’t the one she imagined or watched in the movies. She is, after all, convinced that “people never make films about ordinary people who don’t really do anything.”
Perhaps her disappointment is expressed best in the film’s inaugural shot (which also serves curiously as the film’s trailer). Naomi sits by herself on the steps of her Brooklyn tenement, dispassionately singing her acoustic rendition of Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove.” There’s a powerful inharmonious suggested between Browning’s jaded vocal work and Ballard’s wholehearted lyrics, which seem to be in awe of the city, as if the song itself represented something “real” to Naomi at one point in time.
Alex Ross Perry embraces a similar inharmoniousness in his discordant narrative rhythms and asymmetrical compositions. Now 33-years-old, Perry mediates between his twenty and fortysomethings with an empathy that resounds across both age groups. Belonging to neither group, Golden Exits might play as a speculative drama about how his possible 40-year-old self might be able to communicate with his inner 20-year-old (an attractive Australian girl, in this case). Underlining it is the fear that Perry will start identifying less with the sprightly, upbeat Naomi and more the sullen, plaintive Nick. And yet, Perry never looks down on a Nick or Buddy even as he broaches their shortcomings (sometimes for are amusement). Rather, Perry allows Naomi—even at an unripened twentysomething—to recognize some of the romance and passion driving Nick and Buddy’s compulsive desires may be the same ones driving hers.