Film Review: Peter and Vandy

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
More Sundance reviews

PARK CITY -- A memorable romantic movie requires sharp writing and strong chemistry between the stars, commodities that are always in short supply. Miraculously, one of the least heralded Sundance movies has these two crucial qualities. "Peter and Vandy" needs careful handling to find the appreciative audience it deserves.

Twentysomethings Peter (Jason Ritter) and Vandy (Jess Weixler) meet by chance outside the courthouse where Vandy has jury duty, and though she has a boyfriend, the two of them connect, start a romance and soon move in together.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and as the lovers learn more about each other, tempers fray and tensions rise. Instead of unfolding in straight chronological order, the film jumbles the various stages of their relationship, so that the first flush of passion comes in the middle of the film, while some of the fierce arguments are at the beginning.

Writer-director Jay DiPietro's film began as a two-character play that had the same nonlinear structure but a single setting. In adapting the play, DiPietro has added characters and settings so that we never for an instant feel we are watching a theatrical piece. The writing is exhilaratingly literate. For example, a Thanksgiving scene in which Vandy's family tries to explain to her young niece why Peter walked out is brilliantly, painfully funny.

The one problem with the script is that we sometimes share the family's sour view of Peter. He can seem maddeningly infantile and self-indulgent, so we occasionally wonder why Vandy continues to harbor feelings for him. Fortunately, Ritter brings so much self-deprecating charm to the role that he helps to make the connection believable.

This should be a breakthrough role for Weixler, who's been seen in such small indie films as "Teeth" and "The Big Bad Swim." She plays the more sympathetic of the lovers, and she's utterly radiant throughout the picture.

All of the supporting actors -- including Jesse L. Martin, Noah Bean, Bruce Altman and Maryann Plunkett -- contribute sharp portrayals. Although the film clearly was made on a small budget, it makes excellent use of the New York locations.

The film seems to be heading in a melancholy direction, but it takes a surprising turn toward the end that is deeply satisfying and moving. The greatest romantic movie to jumble its time structure, Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road," is a touchstone that DiPietro must have had in mind. While this low-budget indie doesn't have the gloss or the depth of that romantic classic, the highest compliment I can pay "Peter and Vandy" is that it belongs in the same company.

Production: Paper Street Films, Cook Street Prods.
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Jesse L. Martin, Tracie Thoms, Noah Bean, Zak Orth, Bruce Altman, Maryann Plunkett
Director-screenwriter: Jay DiPietro
Producers: Jay DiPietro, Peter Sterling, Austin Stark, Benji Kohn, Bingo Gubelmann
Executive producers: Amanda Gruss, Lawrence Levine
Director of photography: Frank G. DeMarco
Production designer: Lucio Seixas
Music: Jason Lifton
Costume designer: David Withrow
Editor: Geoffrey Richman
Sales agent: Endeavor Agency
No rating, 80 minutes