Naomi (Emily Browning) has come to America from her native Australia to work as a research assistant for Nick (Adam Horovitz), who has the job of archiving his late father-in-law’s documents – essentially working for his wife, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny). The pretty young Aussie is unprepared for the cauldron of resentment, jealousy and rivalry in the deceased benefactor’s family and among their friends in “Golden Exits.”
My take, as I watched the drama unfold in “Golden Exits,” is that this is about a bunch of very angry, confused and selfish 30-something people of privilege. And, I did not like or sympathize with almost any of them. Maybe this is because I am an old curmudgeon with a better outlook on life and people than the characters in Alex Ross Perry’s latest film.
Being an old guy notwithstanding, I do not see real people in the characters that populate the film, with the exception of Jason Schwartzman as Buddy, the only one with a direct link with Naomi from his exchange student days in Australia. Buddy, unlike the rest, is a real character, not a character-type. The rest are given just one note to play as their characters and it is often a sour one.
Emily Browning, as Naomi, is perfect as the object of everyone’s desire or, in others, resentment and jealousy. She looks the helpless waif but she is smarter than her 24-year innocent-looking prettiness gives away. Naomi is the center of attention, good or bad, and she is among deeply troubled “adults” who surround her. My mind kept yelling, “Naomi! Get away from them crazy people!.” I guess that means I care. I give it a B-.
When beautiful, 25 year-old Naomi (Emily Browning, TV's 'American Gods') arrives in New York from Australia to become archivist Nick's (Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, "While We're Young") assistant cataloging his deceased father-in-law's art, she becomes a subject of intense scrutiny among Nick's friends and two sets of sisters. By the time she's on her way home, two marriages have been given a workout in writer/director Alex Ross Perry's ("Listen Up Philip," "Queen of Earth") "Golden Exits."
Perry's films, often about children of artists and people reevaluating themselves through the eyes of another, belong in the New York cinema ouevre of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach. But Perry's characters are uniquely flawed, often hilariously so. "Golden Exits" hints at "Hannah and Her Sisters" (among others) as men are drawn like moths to Naomi's youthful flame while single women yearn for the lives of the married ones whose husbands are cheating on them.
'I'm Back in the New York Groove' sings Naomi, sitting on the steps of a brownstone, back in New York City fifteen years after visiting at the age of ten. She's a grenade about to go off within the lives of two separate married couples. Thirty-nine year-old Nick takes his new employee home for dinner where his psychiatrist wife Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny) and her divorced, single sister Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker) erect a welcoming front, but as time goes on we'll learn all is not well among these three. Gwen, who's dedicated her life to her dad's work, hired Nick, but doesn't seem to hold him in high regard. She thinks he's desperately unhappy and believes her sister is a liar who hasn't shared her marital woes, thoughts she shares with Naomi privately. For his part, Nick's decision, especially after we learn Alyssa's still smarting from his prior infidelity, is suspect, especially as tidbits such as the fact that he's subsidizing Naomi's NYC apartment come to light.
While she's trying to find her advantage among these three, Naomi reaches out to her one contact from her a trip to the States when she was ten years old. Buddy (Jason Schwartzman) is a thirty year-old sound engineer who runs his own studio with younger wife Jess (Analeigh Tipton, "Damsels in Distress"), the son of a friend of Naomi's mother. He complains to his wife about meeting up with an 'obligation' for a drink, but when Naomi tells him his fifteen year-old self was the highlight of her trip, Buddy secretively keeps going back for more. Jess, who's continually lending an ear to her sister Sam's (Lily Rabe, TV's 'American Horror Story') singleton woes, suffers in silence, her suspicions confirmed when Buddy returns from a drink the next morning.
Perry's film unfolds over the course of springtime in Brooklyn, establishing shots of the neighborhood bridging cramped interior office scenes, his characters' exterior sunniness a facade for darker thoughts. Naomi is almost on top of Nick in his cramped basement office, Nick's appreciation of that fact fading over time. Alyssa is caught up in her own troubles as her patients reel out theirs. Buddy fails to recognize his own lapse when he finds Jess has landed a client at a meeting he's barely made. The men huddle in bars, Buddy with Naomi, Nick with friends celebrating his fortieth. The only character with any space is Gwen, more a caustic commentator than participant in the action.
Perry keeps his two groups tantalizingly close without each ever recognizing their common ground, Buddy the friend-of-a-friend at Nick's birthday, Sam offered as additional archival assistance by a critical Gwen. Naomi is a catalyst for men's worst impulses, the embodiment of these women's fears. "Golden Exits" boasts a terrific ensemble demonstrating the unhappiness and self doubt revealed when their routines are nudged off tilt by one lone outsider.
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