Fred and Ginger in Greenpoint (Minus the Singing)

01/19/2011 4:00 AM |

Gabi On the Roof in July

Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine

Gabi on the Roof in July, winner of best narrative feature at last year’s Brooklyn Film Festival, concerns a brother and sister who’re like Mumblecore equivalents of Astaire and Rogers. As with characters in a classic musical, sans the song-and-dance, their flaws and strengths are complementary; both boast a character trait the other lacks: he’s responsible, she’s fun, and each needs to take a page from the other. As such, they also embody the movie’s central tension: not only between growing up and being cool, but also between two different styles of cinema—the self-serious drama and the easygoing comedy.

Sam (played by the director) is a painter living off the Nassau Avenue G stop, juggling an insecure girlfriend and an art-dealing ex while housing his 20-year-old sister, Gabi (Sophia Takal), an artist (“well, anti-artist”) and Oberlin undergrad who rejects the gallery system because it supports the “bourgeoise myth that art and life are two separate things”; she has come to Brooklyn for the summer to make post-Fluxus feminist art. Sam often leaves the apartment to deal with some lover-drama, then comes home to find his sister naked, maybe for Twister, or just to be covered in whipped cream. “Just because you’re naked,” Sam notes, “doesn’t make it art.”

Yes, Gabi, shot on fire escapes, in living rooms and city parks, is about overeducated, underemployed youths in Brooklyn apartments who drop a Guy Debord reference as casually as their pants. It’s a strong example of a certain kind of movie, though way too late to that party. Still, it’s notable for Gabi’s blitheness, which functions as a cheeky critique of the genre that her brother’s storyline personifies. When, mid-film, Sam’s girlfriend, green-eyed and drunk, crashes a casual evening of mid-week imbibing, she is like Drama incarnated, imposing on Comedy—just like adulthood, with its anxieties and insecurities, crashes the party that is twentysomethingness.

Opens January 21