Gemini is a contemporary Noir-ish mystery about a starlet’s personal assistant who searches the Hollywood hills for the truth behind a murder for which she has been falsely accused. Lola Kirke stars as the bubblegum shoe “Jill LeBeau,” and she’s backed up by a strong supporting cast of actors you’re excited to see show up in movies – Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, Greta Lee, James Ransone, and Nelson Franklin, primarily. These actors are all so good, you want more of them, but this is really Kirke’s film, and she carries it nicely. I like her. She has natural screen charisma, and I hope she continues to take interesting roles with good directors and continues to grow as an actor.
It’s also always fun to see L.A. presented as itself. For most of movie history, Los Angeles doubled as anywhere. When it was shown as itself, it was most often presented in its ideal form, as a playground of stars and starlets, all glam and glitter. The original Noir films of the late 40s and early 50s were frequently set in L.A., but they shied away from the falseness of those other films and showed the dirtier side of the City of Angles. They also still shot in studios, not on location.
Contemporary filmmakers, picking up on the tradition begun first in Italy in the late 1940s and then in France in the1950s and then carried over to America in the late 1960s and 1970s, feature Los Angeles in all its suspect, rarely-washed-by-rain “glory.” We take it for granted now, but until the late 1960s and early 1970s, you rarely saw the real world in American films. Now, filmmakers film on the actual streets and in the actual hills of the city. This is the L.A. I live in. This is the L.A. I love. I never tire of seeing it in movies.
So Gemini borrows the Noir genre’s plot structure, location, and tone. It does this well. The ending is a little hackneyed, but with a few exceptions, the genre has never been great with endings. The existential angst which undergirds the genre tends to shepherd the stories toward meaninglessness instead of resolution. The best Noirs leave you feeling hollow in the end, as the characters feel. Gemini isn’t built on the same kind of nihilism, so it lacks the genre’s weight, even if the mystery is deftly handled.
The Noir mood fits Los Angeles, because for every person who “makes it,” there are a thousand others who don’t and there are tens of thousands of people like “Jill” who make their living working ancillary to the industry. Most of them have other ambitions beyond their current employment. Most of them are frustrated. So though we are far from the original, post-WWII atmosphere of the original Noirs, the Noir mood of angst and disillusionment works still, even if the existential despair hasn’t hit these young people, at least not all of them, at least not yet.