COOL APOCALYPSE (2015) review
written by: Michael Glover Smith
produced by: Clare Kosinski
directed by: Michael Glover Smith
runtime: 73 min.
U.S. release date: November 21 and 23, 2015 (limited engagement at Siskel Film Center in Chicago, IL)
Even if you’re far removed from the twentysomething dating scene, you’re bound to conjure up a memory or two of your own ups and downs from back in the day while watching “Cool Apocalypse”, from writer/director Michael Glover Smith. The Chicago-based dramedy found me thinking about those awkward times I mustered up the courage to talk to a girl and reminded me of those moments that build up over time that make you realize the relationship you’re in just isn’t going to work anymore. His feature-length debut is an immersive, character-driven story that follows people we know, some of those people may even be ourselves. Depending on where you’re at in life, watching “Cool Apocalypse” may feel like you’ve opened a time capsule, or maybe even stared in a mirror or found yourself looking into a neighbor’s window.
Smith’s story focuses on one summer day in the life of two twentysomething Chicago couples – one on their way out of love and one discovering it. Paul (Kevin Wehby) is an aspiring writer who works at a used bookstore in the north-side neighborhood of Edgewater and feminist blogger Julie (Nina Ganet) works next door at a women’s clinic as a receptionist. They have never met until today, when the outgoing Julie introduces herself and asks Paul to join her for lunch. They hit it off. Paul lives in an apartment with his friend, Claudio (Adam Overberg), an unemployed video journalist who is still breaking up with Tess (Chelsea David), also a video journalist – one with more recent success in the field, who has been crashing with Claudio until she leaves for Italy. On her last day in Chicago, Claudio offers to chauffeur Tess around, getting some things done before her trip and prepare for a goodbye dinner that includes Paul, despite the duo’s growing friction. After a successful lunch date, Paul decides to be just as forward as Julie and invite her to his place for dinner. The stage is set for two couples on the complete opposite ends of the relationship spectrum to make memories over dinner – what could possibly go wrong?
We begin and end with Tess, the story Smith tells provides enough time to get to know all four characters. In fact, it’ll likely leave you wishing for more time with these characters, but that’s a sign that Smith has written interesting and relatable characters, portrayed by actors who comfortably fit into their roles. As two young people with a clean slate in front of them, Wehby and Ganet have a palpable chemistry together as Paul and Julie. On their first date, it feels like the two balance each other out. Wehby exudes an easy-going manner for Paul, a character that could possibly be an introvert and then Ganet’s Julie comes into his life with an undeniable warmth and confidence. Ganet brings an engaging and energetic cheerfulness to Julie that is quite infectious to watch. In any other movie she would be the token “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” that often frequents independent films, but both Ganet and Julie inject the movie with a rare optimism. It’s never overbearing though, thanks to Ganet’s performance and Smith’s writing and direction.
Then there’s Overberg and David, who have more of a challenge in the roles of Claudio and Tess, respectively. These characters have a history together that has to be introduced to viewers right away, in order for us to really get involved in their story. It’s a tricky thing to write, because the goal is to refrain from using explanations as much as possible and rely on nuanced performances and body language from the actors. That’s what happens here. Smith drops us right in and trusts viewers to figure out that Claudio and Tess are on their way out as a couple. Although they both admit that, there’s still an unusual sense that both of them still have a thing for each other – it’s just not enough to give it another go – yet, remaining friends is proving to be quite problematic, especially for Claudio. Both Overberg and David convey their character’s frustration (with each other and possibly themselves) excellently and provide underlying layers that shape how they’ve gotten the way they are. None of this characterization has to be explained to us because we’re aware of the frustration and hurt that can occur in a relationship.
“Cool Apocalypse” looks at not just the behavior in a relationship, but also the things that are said (and unsaid) in the different stages of dating. Smith’s dialogue feels familiar because the lines are authentic and natural, not pretentious and purposefully witty. Paul and Julie’s interaction is understandably hesitant and awkward at first as they try and get a feel for each other, whereas Claudio and Tess know each other all too well, which can be heard as the biting zingers shoot each other down. These depictions and characterizations are absorbing, primarily because there’s an appreciation to be found in Smith’s decision to just show people as they are.
While that is an apparent decision, so is showing what these characters do and where they go throughout the day. Smith and his cinematographer Vincent Bolger capture the minutiae of everyday life – waking up, playing music, making coffee, going to work, interacting with people, etc. These moments offered finds the audience reflecting on their own behavior and activities in life. It definitely found me focusing more intently on the film as did the choice to present the story in black and white.
The locations and settings in “Cool Apocalypse” are as important to Smith as the characters that inhabit his film. This can be found in the way in which his camera is placed – from ground level or worm’s eye view on an apartment-lined street – to medium shots that focus on local independently owned restaurants, like the Little Corner Restaurant and Carnitas & Cookies, which offer just as much character to the film as the people who are eating there. It’s clear there’s a conscious decision to show a distinctive Chicago neighborhood, rather than the usual tourist spots often seen in movies – it’s just one of many right decisions made.
My one qualm with the film is its length. If it was a little longer – even 15 minutes – I think there would be more to offer here. Again, the acting and filmmaking is fine, but I think the film could’ve benefitted from a bit more time spent with these two couples. Because of this, I had an especially hard time believing that Paul would ask Julie over for dinner after their first date was only hours earlier over lunch. It just seems a bit rushed in an effort to get both couples under one roof. I get that dinner at the apartment is where the climax takes place, but getting there could’ve been a bit smoother. Regardless, the fact that I found myself wanting to spend more time with these characters is clearly a good sign.
“Cool Apocalypse” is influenced by the films from Richard Linklater and Eric Rohmer, which Smith admits here, but there’s undeniable life observances and experiences on display here. I discovered Michael Glover Smith through his blog, White City Cinema, where I learned he’s a local film critic who also teaches film. His is knowledgeable, intuitive and passionate about film and this film affirms that that can be applied toward his view of life and relationships as well.
You can purchase tickets to this weekend’s premiere screenings at the Siskel Film Center here. Smith will be attending as well as producer Clare Kosinski and cast members Nina Ganet, Adam M. Overberg, Chelsea David and Kevin Wehby for a Q&A following the November 21st show and all of the above (minus Kevin) for the November 23rd show!