These day-in-the-life films that follow sets of disparate characters have been done ad nauseam. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia perfected it two decades ago. More recently, Katell Quillévéré’s Heal the Living gave it a nice turn, but writer-director Dustin Guy Defa’s Person to Person is no game-changer.
The film takes three completely unrelated stories of people floundering through life in New York City. First there is Bene, whom the filmmaker seems to fawn over more than any of his other characters. He is played by Bene Coopersmith, who in real life is an occasional actor who runs a record store in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. The Bene portions of the film are mostly about how he goes about his day: Bene gets his coffee, drops by his girlfriend’s, and goes to meet a man looking to sell a rare record. He asks every person he encounters what they think of the newly purchased vintage shirt he is wearing, whether it “says” the right thing about him. He talks like a throwback to some indiscernible time period, as if his lingo has been culled from the 1940s through the ’70s, and then abruptly stopped updating.
The second storyline concerns Claire (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), who is on the first day of her new job at a small newspaper. She is paired with Phil (Michael Cera) on the crime beat. A wealthy man has died, and his death was either murder or suicide. They drive around the city together trailing the detectives on the case while Phil makes Claire listen to the death metal demo his band just recorded in hopes that Claire will get into it, and therefore him.
Then Philip Baker Hall plays a man who runs a clock store. Nothing really happens in here besides Phillip Baker Hall running a clock store.
The third plot (since I’m not counting the clock store) centers on two teenage girls, Wendy and Melanie (Tavi Gevinson and Olivia Luccardi). Their parents are completely missing in action. (Is it after school, or is this a weekend? Nobody in this movie knows what time it is besides Phillip Baker Hall.) Left to their own devices, the girls lay about looking at their phones and chatting about teenager stuff. Wendy is “dark,” acerbic, and probably a lesbian. She’s definitely not into most people her age at all. Melanie is a little more outgoing and lately has been wrapped up in her new boyfriend, much to Wendy’s chagrin. when Melanie invites her boyfriend over for a make-out session, he totes along his cute and unattached friend (Ben Rosenfield). Wendy has been with girls before, but is feeling pressure from Melanie to try dating a boy—and to hang out with other people her age.
Person to Person is quirky and cute, populated by objects and characters that look out of place in the world we live in today, from Bene’s vintage tastes in clothing and music to the Wite-Out on Michael Cera’s desk to the fact that much of it takes place in a freaking clock store. There are undeniably some funny moments (a bicycle chase that never escalates above a strolling pace is rather amusing), but ultimately it goes nowhere. It seems reminiscent of the indie film boom of the ’90s, but even if it had been made 20 years ago, by no means would it have been considered exceptional. At one point in this parched-dry film, Cera’s character laments he can’t get anyone to like him. The moment feels meta-analytical, as if the film itself is reaching out to let us know that it’s made peace with itself; it knows that not many are going to embrace it.