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Gemini (plus the High Fidelity tv series)

Before going into Corona lockdown I rented a bunch of Blu-Rays and DVDs, and I already have my own stacks laying around, many of them movies I have not reviewed yet. I hope to get to many of those, but during These Uncertain TimesTM I’m making an extra effort to mix in reviews of things that are easily accessible from home, and I’ll try to vary which streaming services they come from.

GEMINI is one I found on Hulu. It’s from 2017, and I know it’s been on DVD for a while because I remember looking at the box at the video store and considering it. The reason I bit the bullet this time is Hulu’s own fault: I’ve been watching Zoë Kravitz on their series High Fidelity (based on the Nick Hornby novel and John Cusack movie). I remember liking her in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, I guess I had seen her in THE BRAVE ONE, ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT and AFTER EARTH, I forgot she was Mary Jane in INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, and of course I adore her as Toast the Knowing in MAD MAX FURY ROAD. But High Fidelity is one of those holy shit arrivals of an actor you suddenly realize you had wildly underestimated or under-appreciated. She is great.To me the show is a seductive fantasy about being young and cool and living in New York City, and yes you have fucked up relationship problems of your own doing and probly shouldn’t be drinking as much whisky as you are, but also you have a fun time with cool friends seeing bands and going to bars and spending your days hanging out in a record store, which you own, and don’t seem too worried about.

(TWO IMPORTANT NOTES:

1. I guess I’m kinda slow so I think I was on episode 3 when I said “Oh shit, her mom was in the movie!”

2. One of the aforementioned friends – the Jack Black character, I guess – is played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and she’s even more delightful than she was as Lady Reed in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.)

Kravitz plays the protagonist, Rob, and I think it’s an interesting gender swap, at least from the movie version that I’m familiar with. She and her friends still talk about music minutiae, top five lists and mix tape philosophy, but it comes off a little different. If someone dismisses her opinion it has a different meaning. That she’s confident in asserting her opinion has a different meaning. And the character’s failures and selfishness in relationships automatically become more interesting to me, because there’s still a little novelty to women playing characters that are charming and relatable but flawed and complicated. And Kravitz is so good at juggling that charisma, humor and pathos. She’s a master at showing pain on her face and then covering it with a smile or a joke before the other characters notice.

In GEMINI her character Heather is pretty similar to Rob if she was a famous movie star who lives in a big mansion. It starts as the story of this celebrity’s close relationship with her hard-working personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke, GONE GIRL). I had no idea what genre I had stepped into, and was down for this to just be a drama about poor Jill working hard at her job and having to be in the middle of it when her boss/friend is going through some shit and decides to drop out of a movie, to the fury of the director (Nelson Franklin, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH) and her agent (Michelle Forbes, ESCAPE FROM L.A., Homicide: Life On the Street).

I really appreciate the way it drops us into their lives without the usual awkward world-building used to establish fictional celebrities. They refer to everyone in their lives by their first names, as you do, letting us eventually piece together that Greg is the director, Jamie is the agent, Devin is an ex-boyfriend, etc. We hear Heather’s last name a few times, but there’s not a single instance of that usual bullshit where somebody says “Are you kidding me? You’re Heather Anderson! Star of EXTREME CONDITIONS 2!” or whatever. There’s not even the fake entertainment show explaining her career to us. It’s beautiful. It works so much better.

And therefore it really captures that mythical allure of L.A. – the night life, the cars, the elite hipster spots, the winding roads, the homes of the extremely rich, up on the hills, with a view of the skyline, looking like a castle in the distance. There’s a character named Tracy (Greta Lee, TOP FIVE, Russian Doll). We get that she’s a love interest because Heather kisses her, we get that she’s someone successful because we see her expensive looking sports car, before we see her amazing home, which is when we get that she’s some kind of artist because of a poster she has on her wall. But they don’t really have to talk about that stuff.

And Jill is this person who has been accepted into that world because she’s clearly good at her job, but she’s a little separate from them. She has cool bangs but on a normal work day she wears a grey sweatshirt and ‘90s style jeans like she doesn’t give a fuck. She drives a small, normal person car and lives in a small, normal person apartment. When Heather makes her bring her there and compliments the comfiness of her couch, she has to remind her yeah, you bought it for me.

I think that dynamic is very authentic. Heather is very appreciative and often recognizes how much Jill does for her – not just driving her around, keeping track of things she forgot about and losing sleep to follow her whims, but also taking the brunt of her erratic decisions, showing up at meetings in her place to give the bad news and things like that. And also they’re genuine friends, they have fun together, they mean it when they say “I love you.” But there’s always that unavoidable fact that Jill is the employee and Heather is the employer. When Heather talks Jill into sleeping over to “protect her” because she’s scared at night, I think Jill does it because she cares about her, but somewhere in her mind there’s gotta be a little “Well, I better do it because she’s paying me.” There’s a sense that she’s exhausted from putting up with all of Heather’s quirks and that there’s a blurry line between how much of that is friendship and how much is her job.

The biggest sign that this is not just about relationships: Heather pressures Jill to loan her a gun. She doesn’t feel safe. There’s definitely something foreboding about Heather’s fears, the L.A.-at-night atmosphere, and the extremely effective score by Keegan DeWitt (LISTEN UP PHILIP, MORRIS FROM AMERICA), which alternates between very modern electro-beats and a sort of eerie jazz feel. Sure enough, GEMINI turns abruptly into a neo-noir, so I’ll have to tell you the to-me-unexpected left turn that sets that in motion (SPOILER THAT IS GIVEN AWAY IN BRIEF PLOT SUMMARIES): Jill comes back to Heather’s mansion and finds her dead.

That was upsetting! I told you I was watching this for Kravitz, and also I became very attached to her character and this relationship. It’s very tragic. But the movie doesn’t dwell in darkness, exactly. Though I appreciated the truthful feel of the earlier part, I like that it shifts to the heightened reality of a detective novel. A homicide detective (John Cho, “Parking Valet,” THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS, FAST & FURIOUS presents BETTER LUCK TOMORROW) clearly suspects Jill, since the gun belonged to her. Instead of handling this reasonably, she puts on a disguise, evades police, and considers, questions or spies on the various suspects: pain-in-the-ass paparazzi Stan (James Ransome, THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT, KEN PARK, INSIDE MAN, PROM NIGHT, RED HOOK SUMMER), the fan who approached them at a diner (Jessica Parker Kennedy, “Beautiful Girl,” CAM, DECOYS 2: ALIEN SEDUCTION), asshole ex-boyfriend Devin (Reeve Carney, THE TEMPEST, Riff Raff in the TV version of Rocky Horror). She uses her industry knowledge to make phone calls, impersonate people and glean valuable information to find the people she’s looking for. She follows people, breaks into places, searches for clues, hides, listens in. Shit, no wonder she was a good assistant, she’s very crafty!

There’s a type of storytelling moment I love where RELATIVELY INSIGNIFICANT SPOILER she drives away from a place on a motorcycle and I thought god damn, they set up both that there was going to be a motorcycle here and that she knew how to drive it, and it wasn’t necessarily needed to establish either of those things, but it felt totally natural at the time, and then I completely forgot about it, so now that I see it fit together I am delighted!

Kirke and her character are so good that they easily earn the right to take over what I expected to be Kravitz’s movie. I felt like sometimes she wasn’t acting upset enough about the tragic loss of her friend, but on the other hand it seems to fit the unfazable quality of this character, always ready to roll her sleeves up and deal with whatever random shit gets thrown at her and not complain.

It has the effective suspense sequences and surprising twists you need in a good mystery, plus a strong mood and confident visual style you don’t always get. I was a little thrown off by an epilogue that felt to me like it was going toward some big revelation that did not materialize, but maybe I just didn’t get that part. It still worked for me.

I wasn’t familiar with writer/director/editor Aaron Katz, but I do know how to read, so I can now tell you he’s from Portland, went to that same North Carolina college that gave us David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Jeff Nichols and Craig Zobel, and has been directing indie movies for about 15 years. His first narrative feature was the ultra low budget DANCE PARTY, USA in 2006. (Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be about the terrible American Bandstand type show I watched ironically on the USA Network in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.) His second one, QUIET CITY, had Joe Swanberg in it and caused him to be named co-founder of “mumblecore.” Some of his movies sound interesting though, and this one really impressed me. I should keep an eye out.

P.S. I’ve been saving the last episode of High Fidelity, so if there’s anything to spoil for me, please don’t do it!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 at 10:47 am and is filed under Mystery, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Gemini (plus the High Fidelity tv series)”

  1. I adored the tv show and the movie is one of my favorites and I just read the book this year. All good in their own way. However, tv Rob is a lot less douchey than movie and book Rob. She isn’t always the best person but she doesn’t do have the really shitty things make Rob does. I hope we get a second season.

  2. Haven’t read the review yet Vern but my wife and I have been laughing for a couple of weeks now about ‘these strange and unsettling times’ and how every email or tweet seems to start with that at the moment so that got a belly laugh out of me.

    Also I believe I’ve had copyright on that since before your TM, but I’ll allow it.

  3. Analog – A few weeks ago I said “They’re gonna have to make new commercials somehow,” because so many of them were showing big crowds and people having fun together at picnics and beaches, like they were taunting us. And then they quickly did have new commercials and it’s worse because you’re watching ROAD HOUSE or something to escape and every commercial break is little short films talking about how concerned corporations are for our saftey. My favorite one so far is the KFC one that has the cartoony Colonel Sanders voice sounding a little downbeat and saying something meant to be more appropriate for the times. He doesn’t quite say “In these uncertain times” or anything like that, but as I said on Twitter, it shouldn’t be long before Chester the Cheetah or the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee says it.

  4. I personally thought High Fidelity the show wasted the actors potential by forcing the plot to adhere to many of the same beats as the movie. The movie is, what, 24 years old at this point? I really wanted them to comment on how the music industry has changed, how the nature of collecting has changed in a streaming world, how there’s no goddamn way she (unless she was independently wealthy) could sustain a primarily vinyl-only storefront in Williamsburg, etc. But they carried on like it was still the mid-90’s, including new Rob regurgitating a lot of the same dialogue as old Rob. Also, haven’t we as a society kinda realized that the guys in the movie are more to be pitied than envied? That having no personality but a lot of “things” doesn’t actually make you a desirable human being? I dunno? I agree the actors are great but I wanted a lot more.

  5. I have friends that own record shops and you would be surprised how well the do and how little they care about streaming. I think streaming has helped more than hurt becuase enough people want that physical connection to their music. There were stuff related to the movie but there was also a bit from the book and a lot of stuff that is different. They expanded roles, they changed the personality of some of the characters and Rob’s love life is WAY different.

  6. I only read the book, and that was enough. I realize that was the point, and I still think it’s a good book because of it, but I hated the main character so much that I just didn’t care about his journey of self-pitying discovery. Oh no, did a couple of the outrageously-out-of-your-league women who inexplicably want to fuck you call you on your bullshit? My heart pumps piss for you, buddy, as my mother would say. What made it worse was that I recognized a lot of myself in the character. I immediately set about trying to change that, though how well I succeeded is in the eye of the beholder. The book is definitely a fine piece of work in terms of it being an accurate sketch of a particular character type. I just have no desire to spend any more time with that type of character than I already do every time I look in the mirror.

  7. Sternshein – Where are your friend’s record stores? I know there’s oddball places like Portland, ME that can sustain MULTIPLE record stores as well as video rental outlets, etc. But in NY, there’s like three and they’re barely holding on. If the show was true to life, there’d be kids coming in to Rob’s store every five seconds trying to trade old PS3 games.

    I know they took from a few sources, but it seemed to be the show was taking place in an almost Earth-2 dimension where they internet doesn’t exist? I’m thinking of that scene where Rob and that one guy are arguing about who played on a Bowie record. I was pulling my hair out yelling “just look it up!!!!” Hopefully they’ve worked the source material out of their system (ala season 1 of The Office) so I am looking forward to season 2 of this show.

    Oh, speaking of Plop from The Office…

    *****POSSIBLE SPOILER I’M SORRY I FORGOT WHAT EPISODE THIS HAPPENS IN********

    I thought they’d use his character as a way for Rob to reflect on how she acts. He was supposed to be the audience surrogate, the regular dude who starts dating her then quickly susses that she’s a mess of red flags and bounces. Instead, he runs back to her in a later episode and proclaims he loves her? What? Why? Because the show needs to happen, I guess?

  8. That’s one of the reasons living in New York became no fun anymore: all of the cool little stores closed down. The idea of some slacker (who I’m assuming is not characterized as a trust fund kid who’s okay with pissing away a fortune) just casually running a record store in Williamsburg, where the average rent for a retail space is more than $300 per square foot a month, is, simply put, laughable. That’s some out-of-touch “I paid for college with earnings from my summer job cutting lawns” bullshit. The world has moved way the fuck on from that.

  9. That said, extremely unlikely small businesses are a staple of both TV shows and romantic comedies, so I’m sure it doesn’t really matter that much. It’s probably makes the show even more enticing now that the lifestyle depicted is little more than a wistful daydream.

  10. I did watch the last episode, by the way. Thanks for being careful about spoilers, BuzzfeedAldrin. Did you get to the last one?

  11. It often seems to me that once CD’s died, vinyls thrived. There many vinyl-only stores in my home city, I know a lot people who collect vinyls nowadays, as opposed to late 90’s.

  12. *looks at the pile of CDs he bought this week* CDs are dead?

  13. Vern – Yes, I made it all the way through and my opinion still stands. Too much reliance on the source material.

  14. Oh, I was just asking to avoid SPOILERS. I thought in that last episode they did with Clyde what you said you wanted. The way he responds to her showing up at his door was torturous, I thought. In a good and believable way. But maybe you just needed him to react to her that way sooner than he did.

  15. Yeah. My issue was he took off after punching that dude out when Rob’s brother was drunk and instigating things. And I thought that was it for him. He realized she clearly brings nothing but trouble and they built Clyde up as like a normal dude who expressly said he didn’t want drama. Then they have him want to get back together with her like an episode later? I thought they would use him leaving as a way for Rob to reflect on her behavior rather than to quickly set up a season finale “who will Rob choose?!?!?!?” I didn’t care at that point, honestly.

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