Two years ago Alex Ross Perry showed Queen of Earth at the Berlinale and this year he’s back with his new film Golden Exits (showing in the Forum category), a moody, melancholic, intellectual drama based in New York. While Queen of Earth excelled in showing the mean streak of its characters in dark and mystic colours, Golden Exits hits a more subtle and light tone when it comes to human relationships. This time Ross Perry takes the audience from a lonely lake house in the woods to the neighbourhood of Cobble Hill in New York, a paradise for pilates loving, flat white sipping artsy couples whose lives look pretty polished and almost happy from the outside. However, this wouldn’t be a Ross Perry movie if there wasn’t a darker side that slowly emerges during the course of the film.
The movie begins with Naomi (a fabulously innocent Emily Browning, in light blouses and oversized cardigans) coming from Australia to New York to work with archiver Nick (a witty and tempted Adam Horowitz), who is known for liking his assistants a bit too much and who is currently archiving his wife’s fathers life. Alone in the city Naomi yearns to connect with new people, that’s why Nick introduces her to his wife, Alyssa (with a graceful bitterness played by Chloë Sevigny), and his sister in law, Gwen (a very fierce Mary-Louise Parker).
Besides Nick’s family she’s also meeting up with Buddy (Jason Schwartzman as the classic Brooklyn hipster-man-child), the son of an old friend of her mothers she met once on a trip to America. Schwarzmann has one of the best roles in the movie. He tries to balance the appearance of Naomi in this organised life he lives with his younger wife, Jess (Analeigh Tipton, who always listens to everyones problems in the film), whom he has a small record studio with. All these characters lives have a certain beat, yet when Naomi arrives everyone seems to lose their rhythm. Watching the relationships in this New Yorker setting evolve has a certain nostalgia that is reminiscent of the old Woody Allen movies like Annie Hall or Another Woman.
Naomi is the Yoga girl who can do all the poses, she is the woman guys love to talk to but still want to fuck, and to the other woman in the film she is a walking, talking memory of what they used to be, before they became a betrayed wife or a disappointed 40-year-old taking care of their fathers memories. In a metaphorical way, Naomi is the iceberg all couples steer towards. In this way she might appear harmless at first glance, however she’s clearly a threat for all the relationships in the movie.
When she proclaims to the happily married Buddy that she had a huge crush on him when they first met by saying: “the Grand Canyon, Disneyland and you, that’s my three best American stories,” you want to give her the benefit of the doubt by attributing to her youth so very badly. But with each bite of her lip and twirl of her hair, it’s pretty obvious that she knows exactly what she wants and that the arrogance of youth of well, not giving a fuck, makes her even more attractive to the others who are each drawn to her like moths to a light in the dark.
Golden Exits is also a movie about people who are not able to share their feelings, even if they paradoxically try to explain each of their problems with as many words as possible. They are all yearning for a happy ending, which makes you want to step into the movie from time to time to give them a hug and tell them that things will be alright eventually.
In the end Golden Exits is also a movie about adulthood and what it means to be constantly tempted while having the constant fear that the grass is always greener on the other side of the life that you’re not living. The German essayist Roger Willemsen once wrote that there is a unique beauty in the moment we, as human beings, actively decided not to pursue something, because it ultimately leads to more freedom. Alex Ross Perry hits this note perfectly with his new film while showing us the urban wasteland of emotions that might appear so perfect at first sight, however you never know what’s under the surface.
Ultimately it’s the first scene of the movie, a plane cutting through the blue sky, that marks the tone of the film almost perfectly: If you’re not bound to someone or something, there is a world of opportunities to be discovered and so many lives to be lived, but if you make a decision about who you are, there is a graciousness in sticking to it and knowing where your place in the world is. Or as Jason Schwarztman’s Buddy says to his wife, who is waiting for him on the sofa when he comes home from another drink with Naomi: “Sorry it took me so long to come home.”