Joanna Arnow’s feature debut is a blisteringly funny take on millennial malaise and the search for reciprocal companionship.
There’s no shortage of great media that exists about being a thirty-something in a state of arrested development. From Seinfeld to The Worst Person in the World writers and filmmakers find rich inspiration in the idea that we should have everything figured out by the time our twenties are over, and routinely delight in dispelling this myth. As such, it’s hard to present a work that feels truly original as well as highly entertaining, but in her feature debut Joanna Arnow manages to do exactly that, drawing heavily on her own experiences to create an awkward, endearing portrait of a woman trying to figure out what she wants from life.
Working a menial office job and frustrating her parents due to her lack of ambition in any capacity, Ann (played by Arnow) drifts through life, struggling to form connections with those around her. She has a long-standing dom/sub relationship with an older man named Allen (Scott Cohen) but he barely remembers basic facts about her and frequently chastises her for talking too much. It’s clear the dalliance is unhealthy – perhaps even to both of them – but Ann is stuck, unable to really see a better way of fulfilling her desires. With Allen’s encouragement she attempts dating other men, but finds only ritual humiliation without the closeness, until she meets Chris (Babak Tafti), a charming, goofy experimental musician who likes Ann just the way she is.
Arnow’s script captures the anxieties and banalities of millennial life with an uncanny precision – both dialogue and physical comedy play a significant role in forming an awkward but endearing portrait of a painfully average existence. Ann is the archetypal everywoman, and Arnow’s refreshingly naked and unself-conscious portrayal feels much closer to reality than most films in the broad coming-of-age genre manage to get.
Yet the film is also a skilful, sensitive portrayal of BDSM relationships, capturing a more nuanced side of the often maligned community. Ann’s interest and desire for a dom/sub dynamic does not disappear when she enters a loving relationship, illustrating that BDSM doesn’t correlate with a lack of love or self-esteem (a common misconception). It’s a confident, sweet and deeply funny feature debut, that gives a sharp sense of Arnow’s personality and vision, and announces her as a bright new spark in the American indie landscape.
Published 23 May 2023