Person to Person (Defa, 2017)

I’ve only been to New York once. I was young, and didn’t know how to appreciate the places I visited like I do now. But I remember it had an imposing majesty about it, at once old to its bones as much as it was vibrant with possibility. I think Person to Person captures that feeling well. Everywhere you look is a story unfolding. Everything explodes with potentiality. From the crumbs of the mundane comes something magical and alive, and you must train your eyes to see it. One must stop still and let the music in the air reach your ears.

This film is composed of four vignettes that occur simultaneously, not really blurring into each other except in the ways the lives of ordinary New Yorkers are examined in turn. In one, a news reporter and his anxious apprentice chase down a juicy crime story involving a cagey widow and a broken wristwatch. In another, an opinionated woman hangs out with her friend and ruminates on her existence as a (possible) lesbian. In the third, a music enthusiast finds himself conned when the vintage jazz record he buys turns out to be fake. And in the fourth, the enthusiast’s depressed housemate learns a lesson in humility when it is revealed he posted revenge porn of his ex-girlfriend on the Internet.

Now, I can’t say the form of the film allows these characters to come alive to any great extent. I’d say only Tavi Gevinson and Bene Coopersmith manage to crack open their interiorities enough to come across as authentic and truly believable beings (though Philip Baker Hall comes close in a much smaller role). That being said, I didn’t find any of the stories extraneous, and that’s quite a feat for a film that’s shorter than most and a low-budget indie. It makes the most of these stories and integrates them into the New York ethos with a loving and playful air. There’s some seriousness and some levity (hello Michaela Watkins). The jazzy soundtrack is attuned to the spontaneous sensibilities of the city and its people. It sings and glides, and never overstays its welcome.

I don’t live in New York. I don’t know it very well. I suspect that if I did, I’d have more love for this film than I do now. But I greatly appreciate what it does, and how it does it. It makes me want to fly out to the Big Apple right now and stroll the avenues, imbibing its unique offerings and seeing what hidden stories are being told in its nooks and crannies.

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