Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' The 10 Best Films Of 2004 The 10 Best Films Of 2004 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck The 10 Best Films Of 2003 The 10 Best Films Of 2003 First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' 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 Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

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

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