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Nobody Walks

Nobody Walks: Sundance Film Review

2:55 PM PST 1/31/2012 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A young woman's arrival creates sexual upheavals in a cool, artistic L.A. household, in an unsatisfying drama that might have worked better as a comedy.

Ry Russo-Young's third feature fails to arouse much interest despite an attractive cast.

Maybe nobody walks but almost everybody screws in this momentarily titillating but increasingly tiresome variation on the Teorema, in which a temporary house guest upsets the equilibrium of a Hollywood household with her heedless sexual dalliances. Except for one character, nobody acts like an adult in Nobody Walks; there's a lack of moral dimension, little thought of consequences and--to ask for a different, more sophisticated movie—no comic perspective, only weak and/or muddle-headed people acting on immediate impulses when no good can come of it. Cast names provide this chic-looking production with a sufficient profile for a modest theatrical tour, but prospects are better in assorted home entertainment venues.

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2012

To be sure, Ry Russo-Young's third feature, after Orphans in 2007 and the 2009 Sundance entry You Won't Miss Me, has an alluring veneer to it. Writing with Tiny Furniture auteur Lena Dunham, Russo-Young anchors the action at the invitingly secluded, tree-enshrouded home of Peter (John Krasinski) and Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), where sound designer Peter, at his wife's request, has agreed to help 23-year-old New York artist/filmmaker Martine (Olivia Thirlby) complete the sound work on an arty installation film piece.

Martine's arrival merely amplifies the sexual vibes that already simmer beneath the surface at the compound. Level-headed therapist Julie must cool the ardor of a hotshot screenwriter patient (Justin Kirk) who has erotic dreams about her. Sixteen-year-old burgeoning poet Kolt (India Ennenga) fixates on her dad's ripped assistant David (Rhys Wakefield) while fending off the inappropriate impulses of her tempermental Italian teacher (Emanuele Secci). Erotic waves from the past lap up when Julie's ex, old rocker Leroy (Dylan McDermott), comes by for dinner one night.

Peter, meanwhile, is a sitting duck for Martine, who's very appreciative of the technical expertise he brings to her project. Sometimes with David present in the cocoon-like, fully equipped home sound studio, Peter and Martine achieve a certain complicity in their collaboration, which represents a refreshing change of pace from the commercial jobs Peter usually works on. When they find themselves alone after a couple of days, Martine doesn't resist when Peter puts the move on, which drastically rearranges the climate in what is already a hothouse atmosphere.

One initial problem is that Thirlby turns up here in a short little '60s swinging London haircut that is, frankly, very unattractive on her, seriously reducing the irresistible quality Martine is supposed to have on everyone. Nor is she flirty or aggressive; she's just available, accepting the advances of three different guys in about as many days. There's nothing about her personality that's very enticing either; she's both full of herself as an artist and a bit insecure, blessed with the vitality of youthful creativity but without much interesting to say. People are drawn to her for reasons not readily apparent when, in fact, they should be wary, especially a guy like Peter, whose observant wife isn't about to miss a trick.

Because he's not developed emotionally or psychologically either by the script or Krasinski, Peter becomes a more unsympathetic character as events progress, entirely so once he transgresses with Martine. Perhaps Julie would be better off without a dullard like him, who seems to have little to offer other than tech support. At the film's center, then, is an ill-advised liaison that isn't even voyeuristically fun to witness.

Around the edges, though, there are diversions to be had. Julie's alert self-awareness and smart boundary-drawing stand in welcome to relief to everyone else's moral amorphousness, which seems only to beget misery rather than good times. If perhaps only because she has more to work with, DeWitt stands out in the cast, along with Kirk, alive to his character's sense of mischief. Ennenga shows promise as the budding intellectual in the family.

Visually, the film is a pleasure, with cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (Meek's Cutoff), shooting in Super 16, helping the director create an elegant, full-bodied look in limited quarters.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic Competion)

Production: Super Crispy Entertainment, Jonathan Schwartz/Andrea Sperling

Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Rhys Wakefield, Jane Levy, Dylan McDermott, Justin Kirk, Emmanuel Secci

Director: Ry Russo-Young

Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young

Producers: Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling, Alicia Van Couvering

Executive producers: Audrey Wilf, Zygi Wilf

Director of photography: Christopher Blauvelt

Production designer: Linda Sena

Costume designer: Kim Wilcox

Editor: John Walter

Music: Fall On Your Sword

82 minutes