“Golden Exits” is the cryptic title of the new film written and directed by Alex Ross Perry; and while I am still puzzled about which “exits” are “golden”, I can recommend the movie itself as worthwhile viewing, whose meaning seems quite clear.
The theme of temptation in movies, especially in a marital context, is a rich one, including much of Woody Allen (with his somewhat dubious phrase “The heart wants what it wants”, heard in his latest movie) to the extensive treatment the French director Eric Rohmer gave it, exemplified most movingly in his masterpiece “My night at Maud’s” (1969). It is of course dramatically compelling—not to mention morally questionable-- when a man or woman looks beyond the usual relational confines and sees that the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence. When that fence is crossed—or even approached--we watch with trepidation as the tale proceeds, suddenly hooked.
Perry, an independent filmmaker of some renown, gives us such a scenario: in (a vaguely contemporary) New York City, Nick, a middle-age man married to Alyssa, hires Naomi, a 25 year-old Australian to help him archive his late father-in-law’s effects for his wife’s family. Naomi is smart and pretty and single, and working with Nick in the confines of a small archivist’s office is challenging. In the meantime, Buddy, who is married to Jess, gets a call from his mother asking him to spend some time with a “friend of the family who is alone in the city”, who happens to be Naomi. (Buddy and his wife don’t know Nick or Alyssa.) With this rather elegant symmetrical arrangement, Perry takes us through the questioning, the old wounds, and the family conflicts that seem to go so naturally with marriage and relations, and the fact that there are two couples who don’t know each other (but who live in the same neighborhood) gives it the flavor of a 1970’s Robert Altman film, albeit drastically scaled-down.
While Perry could certainly learn something of the art of humor from Woody Allen, he is a worthy student of Rohmer, especially the way he allows the story to play out. “Golden Exits” is a low-key, loosely structured, and not overly mannered film, refreshing in its approach, both aesthetically and thematically.