Person to Person is set in the present day, but it feels like a movie out of 1974. Maybe it’s the setting, New York City, the city of so many of the New American Cinema’s celluloid rebellions. Maybe it’s the celluloid itself – Person to Person was shot on 16mm film, so the texture and grain of the film stands out in our digital world. Maybe it’s the kind of story it is. Like a Woody Allen dramedy, Person to Person shuffles between a group of New Yorkers whose lives do and don’t intersect over the course of a single day. Maybe it’s the score, which is composed of old jazz recordings and Paul Simon-esque guitar riffs. It’s probably a combination of all of the above, and it works wonderfully.
The storylines include a man named Benny’s attempt to buy a rare record, a young woman’s first day on the job aiding a reporter trying to get information from a watch shop owner, a teenage girl’s impromptu double-date with her best friend and her boyfriend’s friend, and another man’s attempt to make up with his girlfriend after he did something reprehensible to her. There isn’t much at stake in any of these stories. They just feel kind of real. The characters behave as real people would behave, more or less.
They don’t talk like real people though. Each of them is honest to a fault. Actually, “direct” might be a better way to describe their rhetorical patterns. They say what they feel as they are aware of what they feel. They don’t mince words. New Yorkers are known for being direct. There’s some of that here, but this is also something else, something a touch more hyperbolic.
If you get in the movie’s groove, it’s not off-putting. Some of these actors are amateurs. Writer/director/editor Dustin Guy Defa built the film around his former roommate, Bene Coppersmith. He’s a likable guy even when he’s angry and abrupt. And even though the characters speak their minds, this doesn’t mean they don’t have trouble being vulnerable with one another. They just don’t say things that aren’t true. I suppose that means when they do say vulnerable things to one another, it means more, because they’ve finally figured out who they are and what they want and how they feel about each other.
In the end, I felt like I had spent eighty-five minutes listening to a pleasant album of folk songs. The people they were about weren’t exceptional, but they were human. Their hearts beat like mine. There was a measure of lyricism and rhythm to their songs that made my time with them enjoyable. Person to Person is casual but not lazy, sentimental but not sappy. Even with its assumed 1970s look and feel, it feels genuine. It might not be your kind of music, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s comfortable with itself.