Relationships are tough, and filming relationships for the big screen is even tougher. How many times have you watched (insert romantic comedy here) and thought, "Real people in real relationships don't do that or talk that way or race through the streets on foot in an attempt to stop the person they love from boarding that airplane to Fiji." But then again, if we really filmed the mundane goings-on of your average relationship, is there really anything cinematic about that? Newbie writer-director Jay DiPietro totally thinks the "realness" of the relationship is what's most fascinating, and with Peter and Vandy, his first film, DiPietro teases us with several glimpses -- moments, really -- of a relationship between two young New York City lovers.
Like several other films here at Sundance this year, the story of Peter (Jason Ritter) and Vandy (Jess Weixler) is told out of order, with bits and pieces from the beginning, middle and end chucked into a bowl, tossed, and thrown in front of the audience to dissect. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't -- in the case of Peter and Vandy, the non-linear plot does, at times, feel like a gimmick or a device to simply make the film a little more interesting. But then you get to moments like near the end -- when we're on their first date at an Indian restaurant -- and it's a scene that means more and feels more alive because we know these people now, and we've been on this journey with them.
It also helps that the chemistry between Ritter and Weixler is strong, with each bringing something different to the table. Simply put, Ritter is now inching his way toward schmaltzy Hollywood leading man territory carrying a backpack full of charm, good looks and a dynamic sense of humor. He's a star in the making, and he wins us over by playing it cool, real and a tiny bit awkward. Meanwhile Weixler, who first burst onto the scene as the leading lady in Teeth, is great at playing adorable next door neighbor with just a hint of quirk. She's not the hipster or the slut, but she's the package you'd love to bring home to mom.
Together, Ritter and Weixler are all of us -- they're your last boyfriend or your current husband; the girl that got away or the one you're just about to propose to. And the moments they share together -- from critiquing other couples at a wedding to fighting over the right way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich -- are moments and times and places we've all been in at some point in our lives. Is that enough to make you want to see Peter and Vandy? Maybe, maybe not -- this isn't a film that relies on a few big set pieces to rule the show; it's a quieter character piece about the complexities of love.
DiPietro and his editor, Geoffrey Richman, do everything they can to keep your attention -- cutting and pasting a little of this over there and a little of that over here. Occasionally they'll take a breather and feed us a brief montage, like the one of Peter and Vandy carrying groceries home -- which may seem boring as it's written on the page, but it's an activity that we connect with and to so well that it almost feels refreshing. (And if you're a New Yorker, you know that you're always walking, not driving, several bags of groceries home as you fumble and maneuver your way around which arm gets the heavy bags and which gets the lighter.)
Peter and Vandy isn't rocket science and it doesn't really tell us anything new about relationships, but it's honest and sincere with its message that we're all a little f*cked up when it comes to loving and sharing ourselves with someone else. And whenever a romance flick aspires to be more than stupid sex gags and over-the-top waterworks, then that's when I'll advise you to stand in line for a ticket.