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‘Person to Person’ Review: Indie Drama Flails to Little Avail

Random characters (played by the likes of Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson) cross paths during a day in Brooklyn, but so what?

In “Person to Person,” Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” plays a young woman named Claire too timid to stand up to her cat. Despite her mousy personality, Claire tries her hand at becoming a tabloid reporter, covering crime and grime in New York City.

Why would a former librarian like her confront (or at least attempt to confront) grizzled cops, possible killers, and/or grieving widows? Don’t expect satisfying answers from this aimless drama, which is chockablock with characters but offers little insight or cohesive storytelling.

A weightless knickknack of a film from writer-director Dustin Guy Defa (“Bad Fever”) and executive producer Joe “Mr. Mumblecore” Swanberg, this talky yet listless multi-portrait of assorted schlubs begins with some potential. Michael Cera’s editor shows Claire the ins and outs of barking obnoxious questions at strangers on her first day of work. The two journalists follow Michaela Watkins’ wealthy murder suspect — hiding behind cat-eyed sunglasses or thick, curly tresses in nearly all her scenes — over the course of the day that makes up movie’s timeline.

Elsewhere, with much less promise, record collector Bene (Bene Coopersmith, in real life a Brooklyn personality and Defa’s former roommate) pursues a rare Charlie Parker record, while sexually searching teen Wendy (Tavi Gevinson, “Enough Said”) uses a lot of SAT words to explain to her best friend (Olivia Luccardi, “Orange Is the New Black”) the fairly straightforward wish not to spend her afternoons watching her BFF make out with some dude.

Neither character nor plot is the point of “Person to Person”; only situations matter here. That doesn’t mean Defa gets those right, either. The film bungles its freshest storyline, which makes no sense whatsoever: Despite his relatively young age, revenge-pornographer Ray (George Sample III, “Hunter Gatherer”) doesn’t know how to use the Internet (we’re given no explanation as to why not), and his eventual confrontation with the woman he hurt (Marsha Stephanie Blake, “Getting On”) focuses more on her concern about his emotional openness than about how his invasion of privacy impacted her. (With the exception of Jacobson’s Claire, the other female characters don’t fare much better.) The other narrative strand with any consequence — the murder mystery (which also draws in Philip Baker Hall’s shopkeeper) — wraps up with an absurdly large plot hole. Hula hoops could learn a thing or two from that hollow.

A few more complaints: The acting is often rough, the autumnal palette evokes three-decade-old carpet, and the characters spout dialogue strikingly similar to one another’s. Why does this “Person to Person” even exist? After “High Maintenance” and “Master of None,” Defa’s vision is too white (with his one major token black character) to feel like a convincing love letter to the grand diversity of New York and its mundanities.

Minus an increasingly flop-sweaty Cera, none of the actors get the opportunity to do anything memorable. Seriously, what’s the use of casting a firecracker like Watkins — especially in a clock-demolishing scene that has no right not to be a flash of glorious camp — if you’re just going to shield her face from the audience during all of her brief scenes?

A day can be mind-numbingly dull or fate-alteringly momentous. “Person to Person”
expresses this duh statement with scarcely more wisdom, nuance, or emotional pull. For the same effect, you might as well as scroll through Facebook for five minutes.

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