The intersections of the personal and professional lives of young people in the creative enclaves of New York and Los Angeles have become a recent Sundance staple. Yet no one assays this territory quite like Alex Ross Perry. The Brooklyn-based writer-director steps into the spotlight of the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition for the first time this year with “Golden Exits,” with a cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Analeigh Tipton and Lily Rabe. Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz also stars, continuing his recent return to movie acting after his appearance in Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young.”
After Perry’s early features “Impolex” and “The Color Wheel,” it was his 2014 movie “Listen Up Philip,” which starred Schwartzman as a young novelist and premiered in Sundance’s Next section, that firmly established him as one of the most original voices on today’s independent filmmaking scene. His acerbic insights into contemporary communication and culture, alongside a literary sensibility and tremendous formal control as a filmmaker, set him apart from the looser style of many of his generational contemporaries. That he was also hired to write a live-action adaptation of “Winnie the Pooh” is at once both a surprise and completely in line with his sensibility. His take on Eeyore should be something else.
Below is a series of stills from “Golden Exits,” seen here for the first time, with extended captions written by Perry.
Alex Ross Perry: Nick (played by Adam Horovitz) is an archivist and appraiser, a profession that fascinates me thanks to my friend Michael Chaiken, who has worked on the archives of Nicholas Ray and Norman Mailer. Much of this film is about finding acceptance with your work, even when it fails to excite and inspire you. That office, that chair, that desk: That is who Nick is as a character. He is often asked if the repetition gets to him. Watching him justify his way around that question is something I struggle with myself and is a deeply personal aspect of the film.
Perry: Emily Browning plays Naomi, who comes to New York to assist Nick in the completion of Gwendolyn and Alyssa’s father’s archive. We thought about some of Eric Rohme’'s female characters. I especially looked at “Boyfriends and Girlfriends” and “Rendezvous in Paris.” Naomi feels like she comes from the Rohmer world: Just passing through some place for some time, and the movie is about observing these little moments and connections that happen or nearly happen.
Perry: We wanted to play with colors in this movie in a way that hadn’t happened in “Listen Up Philip” or “Queen of Earth.” It’s an interesting challenge to set for a DP and a gaffer because you are constantly looking for ways to justify it, narratively and logistically, in each location. Jason Schwartzman’s character, Buddy, has a local watering hole that he ends up in most nights. We decided it compensated for its dinginess by blasting colors and hoping customers wouldn’t notice.
Perry: I’ve wanted to work with Chloë for some time. She was a very notable and preferred customer at Kim’s Video, the store where my cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, and I met. He had known her for 10 years and was deeply humiliated to shoot her, comparing it to having your friends watching you sing and dance alone in a room. Chloë plays Alyssa, Nick’s wife.
Perry: I wanted this film to have a sense of theatricality to it, and in Mary-Louise Parker (and Lily Rabe) I was lucky to get actresses with as much theater background as film or television. Chloë told me that she is “terrified of improv” so I decided that the movie wouldn’t have any. It was a new experience to rely only on the written words rather than remain open to the possibility of changing them day by day. Mary-Louise and Chloë both live in the parts of Brookyln where we shot the entire film and were deeply in touch with the sensibility and tone of these characters. Mary-Louise plays Gwendolyn, Alyssa’s sister and Nick’s sister-in-law.
Perry: There’s a slippery aspect in this film of domestic stability. Often this means watching characters attempt to maintain equilibrium at home while we, the audience, see them in situations their spouses never would is part of the attempt to heighten and question the moments where it seems people are complacent to a fault with their loved ones. Analeigh Tipton plays Jess, Buddy’s wife.
Perry: Lily Rabe plays Sam, Jess’ sister and Buddy’s sister-in-law. You can see Adam Horovitz as Nick in the background there. These sisters meet for happy hour at the same bar where Nick stops every day for a beer and some reading time on his way home. Creating some sense of believable logic about where these characters live, eat, drink and eventually overlap was fun because we shot the whole film in my neighborhood or the one next to it.
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