Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 1, ‘The Western Book of the Dead,' How It Differs From Season 1 & More Review: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 1, ‘The Western Book of the Dead,' How It Differs From Season 1 & More First Listen: Here's Your 'True Detective' Season 2 Theme Song & The First Episode Music Cues First Listen: Here's Your 'True Detective' Season 2 Theme Song & The First Episode Music Cues The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far 'The Leftovers' Reboots For Season 2, Switches Setting And Makes Casting Changes 'The Leftovers' Reboots For Season 2, Switches Setting And Makes Casting Changes The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

SXSW Review: Madcap Murder Mystery 'Wild Canaries'

Photo of Katie Walsh By Katie Walsh | The Playlist March 10, 2014 at 12:04PM

Writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s film “Wild Canaries” is a tonal and genre departure from his previous feature, “Gabi On The Roof In July,” but his hipster Brooklyn milieu remains the same. This film poses the question: just how might a murder mystery in this yuppie brownstone setting play out? The result, with bumbling amateur detectives, constantly squabbling couples, and a pair of actually sane lesbians, is a mixed bag, to be honest.
0
"Wild Canaries"
Sundance Selects "Wild Canaries"

Writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s film “Wild Canaries” is a tonal and genre departure from his previous feature, “Gabi On The Roof In July,” but his hipster Brooklyn milieu remains the same. This film poses the question: just how might a murder mystery in this yuppie brownstone setting play out? The result, with bumbling amateur detectives, constantly squabbling couples, and a pair of actually sane lesbians, is a mixed bag, to be honest.

For starters, Levine deploys retro stylistic genre markers such as irises to signal that this film, while a contemporary relationship drama in some ways, is also playing in the world of stylized, over-the-top capers and mystery. Dramatic music underscores rather innocuous startles and surprises to indicate something more menacing than what is really going on. This is how the film opens, before bringing us into the world of Noah (Levine) and his fiancée Barri (Sophia Takal, also a producer on the film).

Noah and Barri have a fine life in a nice apartment with their roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat, always a welcome presence) and their neighbors: the elderly Sylvia (Mary Louise Burke) and party hard artist/landlord Damien (Jason Ritter). Unemployed Barri has grand plans to renovate an abandoned Catskills resort, while Noah has a job of some sort involving DVDs and his ex-girlfriend, the now lady-loving Eleanor (Annie Parisse). It’s just that Noah and Barri don’t particularly seem to like each other that much. In respective moments with either Jean (also a lesbian) or Eleanor, they are much more affectionate and at ease than they are with each other. Here’s a mystery: why are these two together?

When Barri discovers Sylvia dead in her apartment, it sets off the murder mystery plot of the film, as she begins to suspect Sylvia’s son Anthony (Kevin Corrigan, almost doing his best Christopher Walken impression) of foul play for the life insurance policy. Thus begins Barri’s descent into a madcap, clumsy attempt at detective work, literally creeping behind trees and cars on sleepy Brooklyn streets in Inspector Gadget drag. She succeeds, in spite of herself, and in spite of Noah, who steadfastly refuses to suspect his neighbors and drinking buddies in foul play, while also undergoing a series of continuing bodily traumas and injuries (there’s definitely a corporeal degradation theme surrounding Noah that is not quite made clear in the film—maybe something to do with loss of identity?).

The murder mystery itself is entirely uncompelling, as one will be wondering not whodunnit but why is this woman so obsessed with it? As Barri contemplates murderer motives, we contemplate her motive for sussing out the truth. A friendly relationship between her and Sylvia is established early on, but it doesn’t quite support the obsessive and illegal extremes she goes to. She claims at one point to want to “be a good person” but nothing about that claim is even remotely interesting or even believable in a world that revolves on a moral axis of navel-gazing narcissism. By the time the film actually gets dark, it’s two-thirds of the way through and it’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf—when it actually happens, the goodwill of the audience has been squandered on false, or otherwise inauthentic, alarms.

There are some fun elements to the film: the supporting cast of Shawkat, Parisse, and Corrigan are authentic and charming, easily inhabiting lived-in roles that contrast with the manic Levine and Takal. The dub score is a great addition to the aesthetic and adds a chill groove to the antics. Barri and Noah are a sort of contemporary Nick and Norah, of "The Thin Man" series from the 1930s, but while those married detectives were cool-headed and stylish, this pair is neurotic, shrill, and largely incompetent (which is kind of the point).

Eventually, the murder is resolved and all of the background details are explained in an extensive exposition and flashback-laden conversation between Jean and Eleanor, which sort of takes the fun out of it. And yet, Barri and Noah’s motivations remain a mystery. The genre play is an interesting and original take on what has become a cliché genre of Brooklyn relationship dramedy. But unfortunately, the execution of the story is bungled along the way, and the film ends up feeling like not quite one thing and not quite the other. Ultimately, “Wild Canaries” doesn’t quite achieve the considerable expectations that it sets for itself. [B-]

Click here for more coverage from the 2014 SXSW Film Festival.

This article is related to: SXSW Film Festival, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Reviews, Review, Alia Shawkat, Sophia Takal, Jason Ritter, Kevin Corrigan, Wild Canaries


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates