Writing a movie might be a dramatic process for those in the middle of it, but it's not a terribly cinematic one for those of us watching it unfold. After all, how much emotional and visual oomph can a filmmaker expect to squeeze out of somebody typing into a keyboard (or scribbling in a notebook)? Thankfully, "Loitering With Intent," the very funny, ramshackle new comedy premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, does much to dispense with the actual mechanics of two dudes trying to write a screenplay, instead indulging in the messy familial dynamics that can derail any project, no matter how ambitious or well-planned it might be.
The movie starts out with an incredibly succinct, wonderfully edited and totally informative montage that establishes who the main characters are. Dominic (Michael Godere) and Raphael (Ivan Martin) are bartenders, but what they really want to do is act. It's just that neither one of them is particularly good, despite trying their hardest, to the point of putting unnecessary strain on their personal relationships (Dominic has a fed up girlfriend played by the delightful Britne Oldford from "American Horror Story: Asylum"). The two claim that they're in an "age void," reaching an age that casting agents don't particularly look for anymore. And once they've reached bottom, they of course get a proposal – an old friend (Natasha Lyonne, in a role that basically amounts to a cameo), works for a very rich dude, who is looking to spend some money on a movie for tax reasons.
Dominic starts riffing about how they have a script that would be perfect for this dude, one that could easily star himself and Raphael. He claims that it's a film noir and that the script is almost there, but still needs to be honed. She calls his bluff and tells him to get her the script in 10 days, noting that it can't cost any more than $300,000. They have the idea to go up to Dominic's sister's house—she's not there and it's relatively isolated in woody upstate New York, the perfect place to complete their screenplay.
Of course, once they start working, complete with an accordion-shaped poster board dotted with color-coded Stick-It notes and note cards (plus some very shopworn ideas about what a film noir is), chaos starts. First, they notice an adorable young woman named Eva (Isabelle McNally from "House of Cards") who seemingly lives on the property and is instantly attracted to Dominic (the feeling seems to be mutual). Then, of course, Dominic's sister (Marisa Tomei) shows up. She's a whirling tornado of anxiety and dysfunction, her eyes already glassy with tears and her speech manic and staccato. She is currently dealing with a break-up from her longtime boyfriend (Sam Rockwell), and seems desperate to feel better about things, even if it means disrupting the guys' writing process.
Even though they attempt to work, it's in a loose, hardly coherent style, and while the project might seem on the verge of being doomed, it becomes marked for execution once the ex-boyfriend and his dim-witted brother (Brian Geraghty) show up out of the blue, adding another layer of complexity and drama to the already tempestuous situation. (The house itself is sort of unhinged and feels either dreamy or terribly sinister during any given scene; it's like Carcosa from "True Detective" as photographed by Better Homes & Gardens.)
For much of the movie's gloriously brief 75-minute runtime, it plays like an extended hangout, with the actors sitting around, discussing life and love and drinking copious amounts of beer. The whole movie feels like it's suspended in some kind of hammock, with the actors just kind of loosely constructing each scene as they see fit, based on whatever they find amusing on the day. (There's a running joke about all of the characters reading a hardcover copy of terrific Lincoln assassination book "Manhunt" by James L. Swanson that seems to only exist as a "joke" because it was the only book anybody brought to set.) But it's a testament to the performers' commitment to the characters, and the rigidity of the direction by playwright Adam Rapp, that it rarely feels too improvisational. It might be slight and occasionally slack but it is never in danger of falling apart completely.
There are some hiccups along the way, however. There is a giant burst of conflict right before the third act begins (things too juicy to give away here) that doesn't get resolved or even discussed before the movie is over. (This mostly has to do with the Martin's character's relationship with Tomei.) But considering both Godere and Martin (who like their characters were tending bar while trying to act professionally), also wrote the screenplay, it feels like this lack of resolution could be a direct response to the kind of by-the-books screenwriting they were probably taught and had to be a part of regularly. In that light, the lack of resolution feels more like a statement than a shortcoming, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
But the real reason to watch a movie like "Loitering With Intent" (a title so bad that we kind of hope it comes out of the festival with a different name altogether) is watching actors of this caliber interact, and it really is a joy. Rockwell and Tomei are obvious standouts, bringing a rawness and electricity that often goes untapped in their more mainstream material, and Geraghty (from "The Hurt Locker") shows major comedic dimension in a role that could have been plucked out of an Alexander Payne joint (and we mean that in the best possible way). If the movie is an extended hangout session, there could certainly be less fun people to spend your time with. It might be slight, but "Loitering With Intent" is fast, funny, and incredibly heartfelt. And sometimes that's enough. [B+]