“There’s no one here that we accidentally filmed in one of the crowd scenes, is there?” Alex Ross Perry quipped after a screening of his latest movie– his third to play at BAMcinemaFest over the years. “Because this is the screening where we would have to deal with that.”
Golden Exits is a “very local movie,” the 32-year-old director had noted while introducing the film Saturday night. Unlike Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth, which were shot partly outside of the city, this one occurs almost entirely in brownstone Brooklyn, not far from BAM— with the notable exception of a scene at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village.
That detail was “very personal,” Perry said. “If I’m going into the city it’s probably just to see a movie and head straight back home.” (He is a cat person, after all.)
Indeed, the film’s hyperlocalism is “autobiographical,” he told the crowd at BAM Harvey Theater. “At the time of conceiving this movie I had really, for the first time ever, been living a very slow and consistent life where I was working from home. I’d been doing that for about a year and a half and I just started to become really fascinated with this neighborhood-based ecosystem.”
To capture that, Perry wrote a screenplay in which an archivist, Nick (Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock of Beastie Boys fame), hires a 24-year-old Australian, Naomi (Emily Browning), to help catalog the estate of his late father-in-law. As they work in close quarters in his basement office, Nick becomes smitten with Naomi—which isn’t lost on his resentful wife, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny), or his bitterly single sister-in-law (Mary-Louise Parker), who—like pretty much everyone else in the film— would seemingly trade in her domestic tranquility for Naomi’s bright-eyed youth.
If the setup sounds a little bit like another Brooklyn-based film Horovitz was in, it is. Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young also deals with an uptight middle-aged couple whose life is upended by a happy-go-lucky 20-something (two of them, actually). But in Golden Exits, the tone is more maudlin than comedic, and Horovitz shines in a much meatier, more nuanced role (after all, he knows a thing or two about marriage.) Perry pointed to influences such as Todd Haynes’s Carol as well as Eric Rohmer’s later, “underrated” films, Rendezvous in Paris and Girlfriends and Boyfriends.
Part of what gives Golden Exits its sense of unresolved inner turmoil is a rule that Perry had when writing. He said he set out to “strip away the attribute that makes characters want to confront each other verbally during the span of a movie. Which I like a lot, but I made three movies in a row where that was sort of a crutch.”
We’re left wondering whether things will ever come to a boiling point as Nick– as well as another man infatuated with Naomi, a music producer played by Jason Schwartzman– flirt with the idea of having an affair. That’s because Perry is portraying “domestic situations where people are giving 50 percent of the truth,” he said. The men in the movie avoid confrontation by lying to their wives about where they’ve been, or how they feel.
This led one audience member to ask about Perry’s “remarkably dysfunctional, sort of emotionally crippled male characters.” To which the director responded, “Well, men are generally pretty weak. I mean, that’s a given.”
There was laughter, and then Perry noted that his cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, had also remarked that the men in his recent movies were “just such wimps and villains”—“so slimy and unwilling to confront their own responsibility and maturity.”
“To me, that’s an easy character to write, is a guy who’s completely lost and trying to figure something out,” Perry said, adding that the character he most wanted to write about was “a strong woman who balances [that character] out and pushes him away from his weakness.”
Not that it wasn’t satisfying to put Ad-Rock in a pair of old-man reading glasses– the kind that come apart at the bridge. “Even when he has those glasses on, he’s just untouchably awesome to be around,” Perry said.