Alex Ross Perry doesn’t necessarily agree with his reputation as a cynic or a misanthrope, at least not when it comes to relationships on the big screen.
Sure, the filmmaker behind indies such as Listen Up Phillip and Queen of Earth can find several complaints about modern society, such as our obsession with cell phones or our collective tastes in mainstream movies. But when it comes to Golden Exits, his latest examination of romantic angst, midlife crises, and emotional isolation, he argues such labels don’t exactly fit.
“In terms of introspective, character-driven dramas about people talking to other people about what they’re going through, I’m not at all cynical about it. But I’m not overly warm and fuzzy or romantic about it, either,” Perry said by phone from New York. “I think these are incredibly challenging and dramatic moments in these people’s lives. My intention is to be neutral. You can decide if these characters are lying, or telling the truth, or they’re horrible, or if you kind of like them. If someone is seeing cynicism in there, that’s probably what they want to see.”
The intersecting stories center on a Brooklyn archivist named Nick (Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys fame), whose alluring young assistant, Naomi (Emily Browning), draws suspicion from Nick’s wife (Chloe Sevigny) and meddling sister-in-law (Mary-Louise Parker). Meanwhile, Naomi draws the eye of a music producer (Jason Schwartzman) who further complicates things.
Perry’s screenplay came together by combining various ideas for narrative concepts and characters. For example, he became fascinated with archiving through a friend who does that for a living.
“I was finding my way into a very small story I wanted to do that was neighborhood-centric and built around the idea of people who stick around wherever they live all the time,” Perry said.
The 33-year-old filmmaker directs his low-budget projects on the side, while he makes a living as a Hollywood screenwriter. He wrote the script for the ensemble drama Nostalgia, which is due out this month, and also was the primary writer for Disney’s upcoming live-action Winnie the Pooh film.
“This whole thing exists as a little exercise of purity in writing and execution,” Perry said. “It gives me an opportunity to do something that is entirely removed from any of the notes or the beats or the things you have seen in every polished piece of filmmaking. I want to do a whole movie that doesn’t have any of the stuff that you know is in movies like this.”
That doesn’t mean Perry is contemptuous toward big-studio films or those which might have bottom-line aspirations. For him, the two worlds can coexist without sacrificing creativity. Each writing project presents a new lesson and a new challenge.
“What I’ve learned as a writer over the last couple of years informs a movie like Golden Exits, where the whole intention is to not do any of the stuff I do on the projects where I’m being paid,” he said.
Perry admits he’s a cinephile, so he’s nonplussed when his films draw thematic comparisons to influential directors such as Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman, or Woody Allen.
“The only thing I can do is something that feels new to me,” Perry said. “There’s no point in this particular movie where we weren’t referencing the framework invented in a way by Nashville. Instead of a sprawling, three-hour movie with 25 characters taking place over two days, I was trying to do that in a tiny 90-minute movie with seven characters taking place over two months.”