BFI LFF: Golden Exits (2017)

A universal episodic epic disguised as a character drama, Golden Exits unravels into something special while its characters remain tight-lipped.

Unspoken and Unspeakable

by Gus Edgar

Golden Exits

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits is a film of contradiction, at a state of conflict in a film of very little. The dialogue is often stilted, the performances occasionally flat, and the narrative is (in typical Ross Perry fashion) essentially non-existent. And yet – and yet – this may just be his most natural, soulful entry in an impressive filmography.

Gradually taking the form of a stunning and perplexing episodic epic, Golden Exits’ apparent shortcomings slowly morph into integral characteristics of what reveals itself as a tour-de-force study of self-hatred, escapism and resignation. What at once appears inorganic becomes entirely organic – this is a film full of characters uncomfortable in their own skin, silently screaming to break free from their inner turmoil. Of course the dialogue doesn’t sit well with the viewer, nor does the acting conform to convention – if they did, then any notion of dissatisfaction would be rendered false.

The film concerns itself with a group of six or seven lonesome individuals, trapped in dwindling romances or at a distance from one another, desperately clawing at the husks of connection. There’s Emily Browning, playing a young and pretty Australian girl spending time abroad in New York. She opens the film with a heartfelt rendition of New York Groove, and the meaning is clear: the ‘New York groove’ in question is sedate and despondent; whereas Guy Defa’s Person To Person was a celebration of the Big Apple lifestyle, Golden Exits is its funeral.

Her entry into the lives of two families is cataclysmic, though the film makes great efforts to obscure the magnitude of its effect. In a film of characters who hate each other, or are wrongly infatuated with one another, there is a noticeable lack of conflict. The fury is unspoken, but long, vacant glances are enough. The camera glides through the corridors that frame (and subsequently trap) the characters, and they stay silent. The threads of narrative, much like the characters themselves, are staunchly separated. It’s something reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai and his fascination with missed connections, yet the sweet undercurrent is amiss and replaced with a toxic rage. Whereas Wong conceals romance, Ross Perry conceals its absence.

There’s a brilliant scene in which the idea of two plot lines being brought together – that in any other film would be considered an inevitability – is flirted with, but Golden Exits openly averts any clashing of its characters. In another, Emily Browning and Chloë Sevigny’s characters mention that they’d hate to speak behind another person’s back. Golden Exits is doing just that, creating dramatic impetus through directly avoiding it.

Keegan DeWitt’s score – a melodic piano solo that builds and thrums to something much more potent – increasingly encourages the awareness that this is not just a mere character drama or easily dismissable mumblecore, but something monumental – a film that recognises the ways in which it can manufacture drama, and goes out of its way to avoid them. The characters may remain silent in their discontentment, but there is nothing quiet about Golden Exits’ profundity. It’s a staggering, unique achievement – a balloon that refuses to pop (or, heck, even let out a little air), instead expanding from what is, at first glance, a narrow focus, into something universal.

Golden Exits screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 6, 7 and 9 October 2017.

BFI London Film Festival 2017

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