By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, August 4, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
A scruffy little charmer from festival darling Defa, in the form of a smart indie ensemble piece about – what else? – mixed-up New Yorkers stumbling towards some sort of personal connection.
Defa made his bones with short films, including a 2014 version of Person to Person that became his calling card. Therefore, it’s probably no surprise that the separate stories drift together and apart rather than neatly interlace. A shirt-obsessed record collector chases the punk who ripped him off; a tabloid reporter (Michael Cera) tries to impress a pretty news runner (Abbi Jacobson) on her first day; a hetero-curious teen connects with a cute boy; a watch repairman (Philip Baker Hall) tries not to get involved in his customers’ business; and a mopey revenge porn practitioner hides from his inevitable punishment.
The various story threads loosely circle around a mysterious death and a possible femme fatale. However, Defa is clearly more interested in exploring the souls of his characters than in any ostentatious narrative contortions. There are a handful of too-cute touches that occasionally make Person to Person feel more like an over-sized TV pilot, but the film has a huge heart and a sneaky sense of humor. Meanwhile, the film’s propulsive musical energy reminds you of vintage Alan Rudolph or Paul Mazursky.