A film like Person to Person sends me into a dark depression as I watch it. Someone actually wrote this screenplay. That is, a human being, by the name of Dustin Guy Defa, typed up all this dialogue and said, ‘Yes; these are acceptable combinations of words.’ Someone else must have read that screenplay and said, ‘I would like to see this dialogue spoken by actual people. Here is money to hire people to say these things that you have typed.’ The same tone-deaf wordsmith filmed a collection of awkward line readings within flat compositions, which someone else saw and said, ‘This is satisfactory for viewing by the general public. I shall distribute this.’
I guess it’s no surprise that Person to Person debuted at The Sundance Film Festival. Park City, Utah has become the Mecca for American independent cinema, but by now American independent cinema is starting to become a parody of itself. In fact, for maybe the first ten minutes or so of Person to Person, I wondered if it was supposed to be a parody of the kind of clueless, desperately quirky ‘dramedies’ that inexplicably gravitate toward the festival every year. But with increasing dread, I realised that I was not watching a parody. The film was sincere—at least, as sincere as a self-consciously arch, overly precious indie can be.
Person to Person is one of those films that uses an ensemble cast to tell a series of barely connected stories. You’re probably familiar with the genre, A Day in the Life of a Bunch of New Yorkers. Normally I’d summarise a few of these plot strands for a review, but I want to spare myself from having to relive any of them. Suffice it to say not a single amusing, entertaining, interesting, or insightful event happens in any second of the film’s runtime, which seems achingly interminable at 84 minutes.
For the most part, you can’t fault the actors, who were probably just grateful for a paycheque. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis could make this material convincing, though I have to give props to Michael Cera and Philip Baker Hall for trying. Really, the only actor to make any notable impression is Tavi Gevinson as Wendy—unfortunately, with her expressionless gaze and insufferably grating monotone, that impression is that she has a bright future in clerical work, far out of range of any camera lens or microphone.
I’m reaching here, but from a certain anthropological viewpoint, Person to Person could be considered mildly intriguing. I don’t know writer/director Dustin Defa personally, but based on this film I can extrapolate that he grew up in a single, windowless room without ever seeing or hearing an actual living person, and that everything he knows about the world he learned from watching the kind of clueless, desperately quirky ‘dramedies’ that inexplicably gravitate toward the Sundance festival every year. Perhaps I’m being unkind, but understand that I just had 84 minutes of precious life sucked out of my soul by a ghastly film, so I’m not going to apologise.
Let me look on the bright side. Person to Person probably does have at least one practical use. Let’s say you are an aspiring filmmaker, pessimistic about ever getting a project off the ground. If you are having moments of self-doubt, frightening feelings of being a talentless hack, I highly recommend you watch Person to Person. If this movie can get a distribution deal, then literally any movie can. Don’t let your lack of talent discourage you—Dustin Guy Defa sure didn’t.