An artful, perceptive look at human desire’s ability to arrive in sudden, rolling fashion, like a tidal swell, Nobody Walks is a delicate but somewhat mesmeric arthouse bauble from director Ry Russo-Young and co-writer Lena Dunham, who’s shot to popularity with HBO’s Girls. The winner of a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the movie is a fragile but rewarding slice of “Silver Lake cinema,” which is to say a fairly invigorating breath of fresh air for cineastes and something a bit too precious by half for audiences steeped in more melodramatic reward.
Decamping from New York, 23-year-old visual artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) holes up in a guest house of the aforementioned trendy hilly community of Los Angeles. As a favor to his wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), sound editor Peter (John Krasinski) agrees to help Martine, the friend of a family friend, and the two set about concocting Lynchian soundscapes for her art installation film. Martine’s arrival brings changes, though. Julie and Peter have a blended family, and while 16-year-old daughter Kolt (India Ennenga, quite good), from Julie’s first husband Leroy (Dylan McDermott), is nursing a crush on David (Rhys Wakefield), Peter’s older assistant, David is also busy bedding Martine. As Peter’s own feelings for Martine surge, meanwhile, Julie, a pyschologist, deals with the possibly misplaced affections of a patient, Billy (Justin Kirk).
Russo-Young and Dunham have a nice rapport, and their sensibilities fit hand-in-glove. The latter’s skill with pin-prick dialogue (evident in Billy’s sessions with Julie) gives the movie some pleasant pop, but Martine’s backstory arrives by way of oblique hints rather than strenuously telegraphed motivations. This results in a movie that kind of leads from its back foot. While a story strand involving Kolt’s study of Italian with a tutor is less successful, and evidence of the piece’s ornamental expressionism, Nobody Walks (the “in L.A.” is understood) is predominantly a film of acutely observed moments of human longing and failing.
In swatches of story, tone and mood, Nobody Walks fitfully recalls other SoCal works like How to Cheat, Garden Party, Laurel Canyon and even Greenberg, and director of photography Christopher Blauvelt crafts a soft visual template that, with stirring original music by Fall on Your Sword, hints at melancholic fumbling and reinvention. Russo-Young (the rather striking You Won’t Miss Me, a 2009 collaboration with Stella Schnabel) again proves herself a stellar chronicler of the damages young people often self-inflict despite better judgments.
If its ending is a bit too pat — Russo-Young pulls an early ripcord in shrugging fashion, opting for conventional-leaning wrap-up when ambiguity would have seemingly served the story more truly — it’s to its considerable credit that Nobody Walks doesn’t unfold in a world where women are merely subject to the whims of sexual advance, but instead have their own conflicted feelings and desires. Reflected uncertainty doesn’t always make for the most comforting cinematic landscape, but here it’s a lovingly expressed inconvenient truth.
Housed in a regular Blu-ray case, Nobody Walks comes to the format on a dual-layer disc presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a six-channel DTS-HD master audio track. In addition to the movie’s trailer, it comes with a two-minute deleted scene, over 30 minutes of interview material and, the cool little standout, the full, five-minute version of Martine’s own short film. To purchase the Blu-ray via Half, click here; if Amazon is still your thing, click here. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)