“This Closeness” Streams on MUBI July 3

    Only a few minutes into the film “This Closeness” I almost stopped watching it. But I’m glad I finished it; it’s a terrific indie rom-com about intimacy in Gen Z relations. It begins streaming on MUBI on July 3.

    I should explain. Writer and director Kit Zauhar (whose first feature, “Actual People,” is currently streaming on MUBI) plays Tessa, a bi-racial heterosexual woman, who accompanies her boyfriend Ben (Zane Pais, “Margot at the Wedding”) to Philadelphia for a weekend to attend his high school reunion. They wind up sharing an apartment with Adam (Ian Edlund), a sensitive, awkward man of around their age who they discover is staying in his room during their visit. (Insert whatever Airbnb nightmares you have heard or imagined here.)

    The first thing Ben (a journalist who met Tessa while writing an article about the ASMR phenomenon) complains that it is too cold in the room he and Tessa are sleeping in. He insists that Adam remove the air conditioner from the window. OK, stop. Why don’t they just turn the air conditioner off? Why do they insist upon taking it out of the window? Who does that? Removing it causes Adam to scratch his hand on the sharp aluminum (I made the same mistake myself once) and this begins an alternating feeling between the couple of being too demanding of their host. And maybe setting that up was the sole reason for having the characters choose to remove the AC but it’s a stupid choice. Is the point that they are all a bit stupid? OK, I’ll run with that.

    Tessa makes a living producing ASMR videos (kind of a stupid profession) while Adam is a freelance editor of sports video and “ultimate Frisbee” player. While Tessa is initially uncomfortable accompanying her boyfriend to the reunion parties (they go on for three days), Ben goes, complaining that his friends aren’t moving on with their lives. And then he spends time with a truly stupid friend from his high school days, Lizzie (Jessie Pinnick, who has worked with Alex Ross Perry). Lizzie is clearly still attracted to Ben much to the chagrin of Tessa.

    Tessa and Ben worry about their interactions with Adam and argue about mutual suspicions of jealousy. Is Tessa flirting with Adam when she tests some of her ASMR skills on him? When Ben suggests that Adam has an Asian girl fetish, what does that say about him, Tessa asks.

    With the exception of a few shots in the car and the hallway this is a single-set story, the perfect solution for an indie film budget. There are times when I wished there had been more coverage of a a particular scene but then again long takes make the drama and cringe comedy more intense.

    You may ask, if all of this is so stupid, why do you so highly recommend seeing this film? Because, despite the one head scratcher no one but I seem to be bothered by, the writing, directing and acting is first-rate. “Hope we don’t suck,” Tessa tells Ben at one point as she worries about their behavior as guests. But everyone in the film sucks at representing their thoughts and desires. They, like most of us, say things they don’t mean, are insecure, have stupid arguments about nothing, worry about if other people really love us, cry about things that may not–in the long run–really matter and wonder if they are making the right choices with their lives.

    Instead we are still plagued by the kind of miscommunication that sensitive and daring filmmakers like Zauhar are risking so much to represent in films that desperately need to be seen and discussed. Back in the aughts films like this were called “mumblecore” but the genre has evolved tremendously since the early films of Andrew Bujalski.

    In a long sequence towards the end, Tessa and Ben have an argument that threatens to end their relationship as they accuse each other of desires for intimacy with others which they eventually dismiss when a sudden comic realization turns the encounter into a bit of sexual role-playing that would totally confuse someone as naive as Adam. Or would it?

    Because, meanwhile, Adam has invited a fellow gamer (and an Asian girl!) to dinner and then back to his room to play a few rounds of whatever stupid video game they both love. Kristen (Kate Williams) responds to his bold move on her and they have loud sex, which both intrigues and mystifies the hetero couple in the next room. (They didn’t realize the walls are so thin. Which means Adam has been hearing their own loud sex and arguments this weekend.)

    When the couple leaves, Adam surprises our expectations (we hope he really isn’t a fetishist) by getting into the couple’s three-day old sheets as if he is hoping to emerge as the larval stage of their seemingly perfect relationship. Tess ends the film with an ambiguous gesture that can be compared with the one Zendaya’s character ends this year’s “Challengers” with. (Or maybe even Colonel Nicholson’s epiphany at the end of the 1957 film “The Bridge over the River Kwai”: “What have I done?”) What the fuck just happened that weekend?

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