Understanding and appreciating Michael Smith‘s new relationship dramedy Cool Apocalypse requires paying attention to a scene in the film that seems the least pivotal. Paul (Kevin Wehby),a writer, tells his new date Julie (Nina Ganet), a women’s clinic clerk, the plot of his new novel. Despite being a thousand-pages of streams-of-consciousness, the plot takes only a few minutes to explain.
“It’s not about a story, it’s about the way that it’s told.” Paul states with a hint of embarrassment to Julie.
Smith’s approach matches this line as he explores the first date between Paul and Julie and the strained relationship between Tess (Chelsea David) and Claudio (Adam Overberg).
Tess, a fashion reporter for a Chicago news site, and the unemployed Claudio are a bickering couple who find some degree of solace giving each other stress, despite their relationship officially being over.
With Tess preparing a business trip to Italy and perhaps finally seeing the last of Claudio, Paul invites Julie over for a quiet evening of wine and veggie beef stew. This not-quite double date leads to eventual conflicts and revelations about the natures of the couples’ relationships and unresolved emotional suppression.
In a film that might have been slight or trite in other hands, Smith creates a funny slice-of-life expose into the lives of ordinary people trying to find love and make peace with each other. We’re voyeurs into these lives with Smith demanding patience, instead of the quick, ironic, and cynical self-indulgence Mumblecore films can wallow into.
It doesn’t always work. I found the customer/clerk argument near the beginning of the movie a cliched attempt to find a reason for Paul and Julie to find each other. I’ve seen this device used too many times to connect straight and gay couples in movies for it to be effective here. That said, the concentration and attention to the lives of Paul, Julie, Tess and Claudio, enhanced by the terrific B&W cinematography of Vincent Bolger and sparkling music by Andy Roush and Grant Winship make for an enjoyable slice-of-life viewing experience. It may not be like the epic novel Paul created, but it would definitely make for a very good Chicago short story.
Cool Apocalypse plays at The Gene Siskel Film Center beginning November 21, 2015. Check the Film Center website for showtimes.