Keep it in the family – The Colour Wheel review

The Colour WheelStarring Alex Ross Perry, Carlen Altman and Bob Byington. Directed by Alex Ross Perry. By Simon Miraudo.

The Colour Wheel plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 9 and 14, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

I suspect The Colour Wheel is not in black-and-white because of a stylistic decision made by director Alex Ross Perry, but rather because all the reds and greens and blues were sapped from the film stock by the acidity of its script. Perry stars opposite his co-writer Carlen Altman in this wonderfully biting and emotionally bare indie. He plays Colin, brother to Altman’s JR. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend/professor (Bob Byington) and needs his help to evacuate her belongings from their apartment. More than happy to leave his sexless relationship behind, Colin agrees to embark on a road trip that will see the two snipe endlessly, and then conclude with them unveiling to each other (and the audience) the deep, dark, lonely truth of their relationship.

But that basic plot synopsis doesn’t quite convey how funny the movie really is. Consider these two quotes, taken from the climactic 10-minute extended take: “You’re not qualified to teach; you’re barely qualified to learn.” “Since I can’t actually kill myself before you keep talking, you might as well go on.” I was barely able to keep up with the scathing retorts, scribbling away as they continued to be flung back and forth between Colin and JR. On paper, they sound so cruel, and that’s because they are. But they’re delivered with that natural nastiness often shared between siblings; they know just what to say to cut you right to the core, but rarely mean it.

The face-off between JR and her ex occurs half-way through the picture, even though we expect it to be the finale. Instead, The Colour Wheel ambles along, with the caustic JR  stranding her Michael Cera-voice-and-temperament-having bro and bumping into some old friends. They invite her to a party full of their high school classmates; classmates they cannot stand. JR wants to network and see if any of them can get the struggling actress a job as a newsreader in a major market. Colin is reluctant, but he wouldn’t mind hooking up with the girl he’s had a crush on since Year 9. The sequence at the shindig is almost unbearable to behold, like an awkward cross between the TV show Louie and Whit Stillman‘s Metropolitan. Again, as with the uncomfortable scene with JR’s ex, it’s yet another vignette that exists to build towards the movie’s pay off. And pay off it does.

Perry and Altman prove themselves to be accomplished writers and performers, pulling off the lived-in brother/sister chemistry that can be harder to convey than the romantic kind. The final reveal of their bizarre union hinges on it, and it’s preceded by a wonderfully sad monologue delivered by the smoky-eyed Altman. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams captures it all on grainy 16mm and in the aforementioned stunning B&W. The Colour Wheel may lose viewers throughout its short (though narratively uneventful) runtime, and it will certainly challenge them in the final reel, but it’s so rare to see something this scathing and sweet and strange that I have to recommend it enthusiastically.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Colour Wheel plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 9 and 14, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

One Response to “Keep it in the family – The Colour Wheel review”

  1. Is it just me or does the woman on the right in the top picture look a heck of a lot like Liz Lemon AKA Tina Fey

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