This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Dustin Guy Defa
As deliciously old school as an ensemble piece can get. You’ve probably not heard all too much about Dustin Guy Defa, but you’ve probably heard of his buddy Joe Swanberg, whose Forager Films co-financed PERSON TO PERSON—an extrapolation of his Sundance short film of the same name. Following various New Yorkers over the course of a single day, Defa finds great profundity in the assimilation of disparate vignettes. Read as individual stories, these people’s lives register as inconsequential anecdotes in their long lives, but when framed together, they reveal the breadth of New York City; a tapestry bespeckled in romance, failures, accomplishments, and revenge all at once.
We open on Bene Coopersmith (who plays a character of the same name), a textbook hipster and vinyl collector (I guess the two are synonymous). But more than your average thrift store hopper, Bene is an avid jazz collector, and finds himself in a precarious situation when a rare LP is offered to him by a stranger. At the same time, actress Abbi Jacobson finds herself on an awkward first day as an investigative journalist, touring New York City with a delightfully braggadocious Michael Cera, George Sample III is punished for posting revenge porn, and Tavi Gevinson has her first heterosexual experience. Among other indie-mainstays, Phillip Baker Hall rounds out the narrative as an additional cog to the anthology machine.
Tfw our Editor-in-Chief walks by you on the street
Narratively, there’s not a lot to it; PERSON TO PERSON is as simple as they come, but its hidden beauty lies in the honesty of its humor. People talk with a verisimilitude that’s refreshingly sincere for 2010s indie filmmaking. There are no pretensions in line deliveries, no long-winded soliloquies. Every line is spoken with all its natural mistakes, stutters, and imperfections. Defa hasn’t written a film that explains itself. Rather, he has made one where the characters try their very best to articulate themselves. And not everyone is as good as the next. Some are more blunt than others, and the rest are too shy to express themselves earnestly. That’s the magic of PERSON TO PERSON, and it’s the one component that translates the most fluently from the outstanding short film that inspired it.
But the broadening of the 15-minute short film does begin to show its stretch marks. Bene Coopersmith, the only character who remains intact from the original short, is the most compelling actor—and character—from start to finish in Defa’s film. That isn’t to say that the other narratives are bad, but Sample III deserves a little more meat to chew on, while Jacobson and Baker Hall fall victim to some contentious suspension of disbelief. Gavinson, however, is a revelation, performing with a dexterity that harkens back to the magnetic likeness of a young Anna Karina or Jean Seberg, emoting a radiance in her eyes that raise and answer dozens of questions without so much as ever saying a word.
Also that hair!!! :’O
Altman-esque in the best way, PERSON TO PERSON cherishes life in New York City from its misfortunes to its moments of bliss. It’s a portrait of a city in constant change, populated by culturally diverse individuals from varying generations. It’s a poem written for a city of chance encounters, almost giving a holistic purpose to its 16mm design. It’s a film framed to be captured in the moment, only once. That is to say, Defa understands the fragility of life and the absence of permanence. Nothing in PERSON TO PERSON is more complicated than it appears. Criminals are actually criminals, lovers are actually lovers, but their labels mean nothing if we don’t understand them. Defa let’s us understand six of these people to the best of his ability. Welcome to the spiderweb of New York City, where being on other parts of the city only means that you’re distanced by one degree of separation.