A fascinating perspective swap within writer/director Joyce Wong's feature debut "Wexford Plaza," makes for an uncommonly empathetic approach to cinematic storytelling. At the center of this film is the relationship between Betty (Reid Asselstine) and Danny (Darrel Gamotin). It's almost a gimmick, but Wong makes it work exceptionally well, through careful writing and editing, and the performances of the excellent Asselstine and Gamotin.
The first half of the film belongs to Betty, a lonely 19-year-old who takes a job as a security guard at a downtrodden strip mall. She endures rampant, casual sexual harassment from her boss and co-worker on and off the clock, coping with it simply for survival. She enjoys the more sensitive attentions of bartender Danny, who parties with the crew off the clock, and seems romantically interested in her. He's hot and cold in between their drunken blackouts, but Betty never stops pursuing his affection.
When the story switches to Danny's perspective, the time gaps when Betty's not with Danny reveal a wholly different situation. As we re-examine some of their repeated interactions in this light, we ultimately see something completely new.
A moody nighttime aesthetic by cinematographer Maya Bankovic offers the backdrop for these yearning, emotionally naked performances in a tale that grows more melancholy by the minute. Wong's deft script and sure-handed direction means that even as these characters spiral, we never blame one or the other. It's a unique approach to storytelling and character building, and it signals Wong as a major talent to watch.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica