J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Mumblecore Mystery: Cold Weather

Picture this: a mumblecore movie with an actual plot. Sort of. It might not sound like a radical innovation, but it represents a big step forward in terms of watchability for the hipster subgenre of aimless but talky twenty to thirty-nothings slouching through life. Indeed, a rather clever little mystery confronts the slacker-protagonist of Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

The defiantly under-achieving Doug has just dropped out of his forensic science program, moving in with his only-so-patient older sister Gail. He appears perfectly content working in the local ice factory, doing little else besides occasionally hanging with his co-worker Carlos, an aspiring DJ. However, when Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel unexpectedly shows up, that elusive thing called plot begins to percolate.

At first, everything seems cool. Despite Doug and Gail’s past relationship, the four generation-whatevers all get along pretty well. However, when Gail blows off Carlos’s gig, he becomes concerned, dragging his Sherlock Holmes-obsessed friend to her motel to investigate—and yes, from there the game’s afoot.

Frankly, Weather executes its amateur sleuth devices with surprising nimbleness. There are mystery men, lurid secrets, and even a code in need of breaking. As Doug, Cris Lankenau develops an easy, believable bantering chemistry with Trieste Kelly Dunn, who plays his big sis with verve and attitude. Lankenau also plays off the ever-so reserved Raúl Castillo quite nicely.

In addition to boasting a fair degree of humor and narrative drive, Weather also looks and sounds like a movie. Cinematographer Andrew Read gives it a coolly polished, professional look, while not slavishly emulating vintage film noir. Keegan DeWitt’s electro-percussive score helps propel the film along without clashing with Katz’s minimalist vibe. Instead of the typically stilted version of suburbia or a hopelessly unrealistic New York, Weather’s Portland setting further distinguishes it from the indie field, grounding it in an evocative dreariness. The film’s only drawback is a head-scratchingly abrupt ending that almost suggests Katz just decided to wrap production when he ran out of film.

If not a major work, Weather is certainly an amusing little film. One of the best films of the scruffy mumblecore pack (for what that’s worth), it opens tomorrow (2/4) in New York at the IFC Center.

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