“Acting weird is not a crime!”
I’m always hesitant to compare a post-90’s NYC-based independent film to the work of Woody Allen because it’s not only cliché (and a little lazy) but I also know some filmmakers aren’t too keen on being compared to other filmmakers (legendary or not) out of fear of being considered a copycat or unoriginal. But that’s not the case here with Lawrence Levine’s latest feature. Wild Canaries is certainly from the school of Woody Allen (specifically Manhattan Murder Mystery) but it’s still very much Levine’s own movie which combines various genres ranging from neo-noir/thriller to light relationship dramedy (as someone in their early 30’s I personally relate to a film like this more than I do a Woody Allen film and I imagine others from my generation would feel the same way). Wild Canaries tells the story of Brooklynites “Noah” & “Barri” (played by real life couple/filmmakers Levine & Sophia Takal, respectively). When their elderly upstairs neighbor is found dead, they suspect foul play (Barri senses something isn’t right from the jump while it takes Noah some time to get on board). Through the course of the film Barri, Noah and their friend Jean (Alia Shawkat) try to put the pieces together on what they feel might have been a homicide. Wild Canaries does lightly poke fun at the neo-noir/murder mystery genre but at the same time it isn’t anything distracting. Certain moments where Barri is playing the sleuth, disguise & all, are pretty funny yet the details surrounding her inquiries are in fact very serious and Levine treats it as such. Perhaps Levine wasn’t poking fun but rather trying to do something new with the genre.
Right from the start I was hooked. The opening scene, followed by the Point Blank/James Bond-esque title sequence, are enough to keep anyone’s attention. The score, courtesy of Michael Montes, only adds to the multi-genre ambiance as it seamlessly transitions in & out of moody/Hitchcockian to quirky & light.
Although the plot and overall tone of Wild Canaries is much different, I was kind of reminded of Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather in how both films involve young-ish characters in a multi-genre dramedy/mystery.
Putting aside the murder mystery element of Wild Canaries, this film gives us a genuine insight in to average late 20’s/early-30’s NYC living. A lot of the natural dialogue, scripted arguments and scenes of our characters hanging out comes off more like scenes from a documentary rather than a fictional story. The presence of modern day NYC indie movie staple Kevin Corrigan also adds to the film’s genuine feel. In an era when the term “independent” is becoming more & more ambiguous, films like Wild Canaries are kind of a breath of fresh air. One of the underlying aspects in this film has to do with New York City rent prices and the difficulty some folks are having with the constant rent hikes (the motivation behind the alleged murder of Noah & Barri’s neighbor is possibly tied to the sale of their building). As a resident of New York City for the past 11 years, this is something I can personally relate too (minus the murder part) as I’ve lived in three different boroughs (Manhattan, Queens & Brooklyn) since my time in the big apple. At one point in the film, Noah & Barri’s money issues come to a head in an intense argument (I feel like Spike Lee would be mad at me for pointing this out but skyrocketing rent prices affect people of all demographics…even white people like the characters in this film).
I feel like because Wild Canaries centers on a murder mystery (especially in the final act), Levine’s exploration into relationship problems (both funny & serious) will be overlooked by some. So if you happen to read this piece before seeing the film, please remember this movie branches off to multiple topics.
Besides the score & natural performances, other highlights include, Alia Shawkwat’s overall presence, the neck brace Levine wears during the last half of the film, and lines of dialogue like; “My sperm is old and it doesn’t look right. I would be scared to have a baby with this sperm”
Next to Blackhat, this is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2015 (I know that isn’t saying much, but I happen to think Blackhat was really good).