Cast: Adam Horovitz, Emily Browning, Chloë Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Jason Schwartzman, Analeigh Tipton, Lily Rabe
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
If Golden Exits had been released during the summer of 1976, it's reasonable to assume writer-director Alex Ross Perry would have a mid-range hit on his hands. At the very least, adult audiences looking for the kind of character-based dramas in vogue at the time--think the films of Woody Allen, Eric Rohmer, and Ingmar Bergman at their peaks--would inevitably flock to this low-key character piece. However, since this is 2018, Golden Exists has instead been shoved into the limited theatrical/VOD netherworld where even a niche audience is unlikely and commercial success even more nebulous.
All of this is shame, because this may be Perry's strongest work yet; a melancholic chamber drama about New York City sad sacks whose miserable lives are thrown into disarray after the arrival of an outsider. Unlike Perry's previous work such as The Color Wheel, Listen Up Phillip, and Queen of Earth, Golden Exists isn't hostile or attention-grabbing. Known for prodding his audience, Perry has made a more introspective film this time out that nonetheless retains his penchant for focusing on narcissistic characters. Aesthetically, he's still obsessed with capturing a 70s-tinged mood; with Sean Prince Williams's soft-lensed cinematography nicely complimenting Keegan DeWitt's wonderfully minimalistic score and Robert Greene's rhythmic editing. From a filmmaking standpoint, Golden Exists shows remarkable restraint; utilizing clever scene transitions, dissolves, fade-outs, and time stamps which enriches the lazy passage of time.
In many ways, the film is akin to the mid-life crisis narratives surfacing in some of Noah Baumbach's recent films like When We Were Young and The Meyerowitz Stories. However, since Perry is only 33, there's a distance here that makes Golden Exists less navel-gazing than Baumbach's output and therefore more heartfelt. More crucially, Perry's movie is about desire; an ordinary, fleeting kind of desire which dulls with age and can occasionally be reawakened when someone younger roams into view. In this case, the story focuses on the arrival of 25-year-old Australian assistant Naomi (Emily Browning) who comes to work for archivist Nick (Adam Horovitz), a man in his late 40's who is unhappily married to Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), a therapist with her own internal issues. Meanwhile, Nick's sister-in-law Gwendeloyn (Mary Louise Parker) seems drawn to Naomi mostly because her presence reaffirms the feelings of superiority she has towards her sister and brother-in-law.
What's shrewd about Golden Exists is how Naomi--well played by Browning with a mixture of naïveté and confidence--simply brings out the sad insecurities of those in her orbit; which also includes a millennial husband/wife played by Jason Swartzman and Analeigh Tipton. The younger married couple looks at Naomi with jealousy only 5 years removed since she represents the kind of free-spirited casualness they miss, while the middle-aged characters regard her as a stark reminder of how fleeting their routines have become; with the tinge of wasted youth spiking the cocktail.
There's a musicality to Perry's writing that unifies the soft-focus lighting, piano-laden score, and measured editing in a way which feels both authentic and theatrical. Some will claim the film fails by spending time with entitled bores who cannot see beyond their microscopic perspectives, but isn't that the point of art; to contextualize the way we live in a perpetual state of self-delusion? With the explosion of social media adding a layer of imposed satire to our basic vanity, Perry empathizes with his lost characters because they are closer to us than we'd care to admit.
The archness of Perry's dialogue, which often bursts forth as ironic monologues, can easily be discarded as "inauthentic", but that's reducing art to an expose of naturalism rather than emotional truth. Even if Naomi is rendered a fantasy object, Browning's empathetic performance suggests a real person there; someone whom everyone notices, but whose worth is predicated on how she reflects upon the ones doing the noticing. These kinds of details, so pertinent to Perry's growing maturity as a filmmaker, ultimately makes Golden Exists the best adult drama of 1976.