Ir­re­sistible puz­zle

Arlo & Julie, sur­real sus­pense com­edy, not rated, Vi­o­let Crown Cinema, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Jen­nifer Levin

Arlo & Julie, a low-bud­get in­de­pen­dent film writ­ten and di­rected by Steve Mims, is a finely paced off-kil­ter com­edy in­cor­po­rat­ing so many dif­fer­ent stylis­tic el­e­ments that as­sign­ing it a genre is like look­ing through a kalei­do­scope. Turn it one way and it’s a sort of sweet ro­man­tic com­edy with hi­lar­i­ously know­ing ref­er­ences to academia, hip­ster cul­ture, and pop psy­chol­ogy; turn it an­other and it’s a chal­leng­ing de­pic­tion of how trust grows in a re­la­tion­ship, with a plot about the true value of art. It’s also a thriller that’s part Nancy Drew mys­tery and part Ray­mond Carver do­mes­tic drama, with a dash of slap­stick.

Arlo (played by Alex Do­brenko) is a com­puter pro­gram­mer and as­pir­ing his­to­rian with an in­ter­est in Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. His girl­friend of three years, Julie (Ash­ley Spillers), is a very sup­port­ive wait­ress whose mother would pre­fer she stop living in sin. He has just pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in an aca­demic jour­nal — for which he earned $25 — and she has just re­ceived a puz­zle piece in the mail. She doesn’t know who sent it, but the re­turn ad­dress is in Mex­ico. Each day af­ter that, she re­ceives dou­ble the num­ber of puz­zle pieces, so that even­tu­ally there are 16 pieces, then 32, then 64, and on and on, ar­riv­ing in in­creas­ingly larger en­velopes. Soon, Arlo and Julie are ig­nor­ing their other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to put the puz­zle to­gether, cer­tain they are solv­ing a mys­tery. The puz­zle be­gins to re­sem­ble a paint­ing given to Julie by her ec­cen­tric aunt.

The tone of Arlo & Julie is si­mul­ta­ne­ously screw­ball and dark. There is noth­ing nat­u­ral­is­tic about the film, but the act­ing is very good, and the story is con­tin­u­ally sur­pris­ing. The sup­port­ing char­ac­ters in­clude a car­ing co-worker of Arlo’s and a fan­tas­ti­cally pre­ten­tious, un­happy cou­ple they don’t re­ally like but are friends with any­way.

A truly good movie made on a shoe­string bud­get is a rare gem. Spillers has a time­less qual­ity rem­i­nis­cent of Ca­role Lom­bard, which Mims hap­pily ex­ploits, and this en­hances the charm­ing ab­sur­dity of some of the mu­si­cal choices and cam­era an­gles. One of the more sur­real as­pects of the story is Arlo’s slightly an­tag­o­nis­tic friend­ship with their postal worker, who also has an in­ter­est in Grant. The re­la­tion­ship makes ob­vi­ous the in­flu­ence of the old Blondie and Dag­wood movies of the 1930s and ’40s, which starred Penny Sin­gle­ton and Arthur Lake. Do­brenko bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to Lake — he has his wide-eyed dou­ble takes down pat. If Mims de­cides to make more movies with the same cou­ple, he would surely have an au­di­ence.

An eye for com­edy: Alex Do­brenko and Ash­ley Spillers

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