J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Brooklyn Story: Monogamy

A Brooklyn photographer’s new gig is sort of cool, but also kind of creepy. He calls himself the Gumshooter. For a reasonable fee, he discretely follows clients at a pre-arranged time and place, shooting surveillance style photographs. He also shoots weddings, which can also be unsettling for more conventional reasons. Unfortunately, he lets a mysterious client distract him from his own relationship in Dana Adam Shapiro’s Monogamy (trailer here), the winner of the best New York narrative award at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, which opens this Friday in the City.

Theo and Nat are a very Brooklyn couple. He scrapes by as a photographer, while she aspires to be a singer-songwriter. Happily engaged, neither is particularly keen on wedding planning details. Everything seems perfect between them until they suddenly hit a rough patch. When Nat is unexpectedly hospitalized after a seemingly pedestrian kitchen mishap, unsupervised Theo finds himself preoccupied to the point of obsession with Subgirl, an increasingly exhibitionist repeat Gumshoot client.

Those waiting for the great American Staph Infection movie will probably have to keep waiting. Much like its protagonist, Monogamy has a hard time committing, constantly vacillating between a psychological thriller and an intimate relationship drama. Frankly, at times it just feels like a lazy walk through Brooklyn’s parks.

Unquestionably, Monogamy’s greatest shortcoming is its weak protagonist. As written, Theo is immature and boring—generally not an engaging combination. Indeed, Chris Messina does not exactly breathe life into this underwritten character, coming across as rather shallow and whiny. As Nat, Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton) brings a certain spark to the proceedings, but it is hard to understand what she sees in the underwhelming Theo.

Monogamy’s characterization might be problematic, but it knows the County of Kings. We see both its old neighborhood charm and hipster grunge in Theo’s endless rambles. Sensitively lensed by Doug Emmett, it really is a valentine to Brooklyn. Even the music, including contributions from avant-garde jazz-experimental crossover artist Jamie Saft and an original song from Jones, sounds borough appropriate.

There is definitely the germ of an original idea in Monogamy. Indeed, it has an impressive look and vibe. Unfortunately, it never really gets anywhere. Frankly, there simply were not a lot of films set in New York screening at Tribeca last year. Very so-so, it opens this Friday (3/11) at the Village East.

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