Person to Person is a casual movie, it meanders and takes more pleasure in snatches of clever conversation than in plot. It also reaches for an aesthetic of a pre-digital New York, highlighting characters on a quest for rare vinyl or tracking a crime beat to a watch shop where fellas while away the day chatting idly. All of this pleasant, if not unexpected.
In a familiar conceit that lends itself well to the sprawling metropolis of New York, Person to Person shuttles us through an assortment of lives with a wide range of problems, all working themselves out over the course of a single day. No, Woody Allen didn’t write this, but writer-director Dustin Guy Defa certainly takes some cues from Allen and others, there are even hints of Christopher Guest here.
We follow Claire (Abbi Jacobson) a new (totally untrained and inexperienced) crime reporter at a local rag, as she shadows her lusty new boss, Phil (Michael Cera) on a beat. There’s a corpse and a widow and a busted watch, and a quest for the details sends the duo all over the city. Along the way, Phil shares his outlook and metal tracks from the band in which he plays base, Claire reluctantly wills herself to follow his orders and badger sources for information.
Then there’s Bene (Bene Coopersmith) and Ray (George Sample II). Bene collects and sells records and he’s hot on the trail of a rare Charlie Parker vinyl. His delight transforms to a quest for revenge when he discovers the record is a fake. In between flatfooting it to find the guy who took him for a lot of dough and a subsequent extended bicycle pursuit, he calls his pad to check on Ray, who wronged his lady love and is hiding out from her vengeful brother.
Then there’s Wendy (Tavi Gevinson), she’s meant to be spending the day with her best friend, Melanie (Olivia Luccardi), but when Melanie’s boyfriend turns up with his own (interested) pal, she finds herself an unwilling participant in a painfully transparent set-up. Unfortunately for Wendy, she doesn’t much care for other people and is prone to feeling feelings so acutely that they overwhelm her. And that’s even before the questions of sexual identity the scenario raises for her — she knows she likes girls, because she’s been with them, but boys are uncharted domain for her.
Through these base narratives, a number of other characters enter the sphere — most delightfully Philip Baker Hall as Jimmy the watch repairman and his friends, who spend an amusing aside analyzing how one of them slept with one of Frank Sinatra’s exes primarily to be able to inquire how his own skills compared.
It is in such moments that Person to Person is most delightful. And though Jacobson’s pitch perfect reactions to Cera’s awkward advances are source of much humor and Bene’s ludicrous, dogged bike pursuit earns plenty of laughs, it’s the storyline with relative newcomer Tavi Gevinson — who founded Rookie by the way — that proves to be the most uproarious and compelling trajectory in the film. Gevinson’s complex and wry performance stands out from the ensemble and she practically radiates star power. If Defa is so inclined, a whole movie starring Wendy and her pals would be a welcome spinoff.
Person to Person is uneven — with storylines sometimes losing interest and very low stakes for all of the characters — but it is frequently hilarious and quirkily charming. As loosely plotted films that follow random bunches of people around go, this is quite a good one.