‘This Closeness’ Review: A Couple and Their Airbnb Host Get Acquainted in an Astute Dramedy of Awkwardness
Building on the success of her well-received debut feature Actual Peoplewriter-director-actor Kit Zauhar’s This Closeness further explores the deviously twisty nuances of angst as experienced by people in their 20s nowadays. The plot unfolds over a weekend during which couple Tessa (Zauhar) and Ben (Zane Pais) come to stay in a “sad,” sparsely decorated Philadelphia apartment, having used an online app to book a bedroom from introverted host Adam (Ian Edlund). .
But the inherent awkwardness of sharing a small space with a total stranger subtly unnerves all three characters. Tensions bubble up from the depths, especially submerged jealousies between Tessa and Ben, who have come to town for the latter’s high-school reunion. The result is a finely observed study of modern manners and mores on a micro-budget that’s nevertheless rich in feeling, especially the cringeiness one might experience from watching other people bicker or hearing people have sex through thin walls.
The Bottom Line
Barely heard whispers sometimes speak volumes.
Indeed, sound and how it affects people is a key theme here. Throughout, the film cuts away to either Ben and Tessa or Adam’s reactions as they hear what’s going on — arguments, copulation, snoring — in the room next door. At the same time, silences and clumsy lulls in conversation speak louder than bombs. In one weirdly mesmerizing, semi-comic early scene, Tessa and Ben dance together in the bedroom in their underwear, listening to music only they can hear through their headphones.
For a living, Tessa does sound design and makes ASMR videos, short clips designed to trigger autonomous sensory meridian response, or the pleasant tingling sensation down the back of the neck and spine. (It’s a whole thing on YouTube.) Ben, a journalist, met her when he was writing an article about the phenomenon.
Adam is also a filmmaker of sorts, who edits promotional videos for a sports company, although he doesn’t seem especially sporty himself. He explains naively to Tessa that his best friend helped set up the account to be a host so he’d have a chance to meet new people. The best part is that if they suck, he doesn’t even have to kick them out because they’ll leave soon. “Hope we don’t suck,” Tessa says smilingly, expecting that he’ll say “no, of course not.” Instead, he just says he doesn’t know yet.
Those sorts of uncomfortable exchanges continue throughout, with characters not quite getting each other’s jokes and taking mild umbrage as a result. Conversely, there’s an unspoken spark between Adam and Tessa, an inchoate something that’s maybe an attraction or just a vibe, that Ben feels as well. The fact that towards the end Adam brings home a date, Kristen (Kate Williams), who is of Asian descent like bi-racial Tessa, proves that he has a thing for Asian women, Ben reckons. Race becomes one more thing, like the inequality in income between the characters, or lust, that hangs over the interactions here, silently shaping everyone’s moods and reactions.
There’s so much naturalism in the performances that one can only presume there was a lot of rehearsal and improvisation in the process. Even so, Zauhar seems very much in control of the material, ensuring that the sense of artlessness feels minutely crafted and curated. Her work is likely to get categorized as Mumblecore 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever, but she is a miniaturist with her own distinct directorial sensibility that’s compelling and unique in and of itself.
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight)
Cast: Zane Pais, Kit Zauhar, Ian Edlund, Jessie Pinnick, Kate Williams
Production companies: Neon Heart Productions, Modern Pleasures, Discordia, Nice Dissolve
Director/screenwriter: Kit Zauhar
Producers: Ani Schroeter
Executive producers: Rhiannon Jones, Tristan Scott-Behrends, Kyra Rogers, Todd Remis, Gia Rigoli, Zane Pais, Pierce Varous
Director of photography: Kayla Wolf
Production designer: Carol Kim
Costume designer: Hannah Kittell
Editor: Brian Kinnes
Sound designer: One Thousand Birds
Music supervisor: Ella May Sahlman
Sales: Neon Heart Production
1 hour and 29 minutes
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