Articles by

<Benjamin Mercer>

09/24/14 4:00am

The Two Faces of January
Directed by Hossein Amini

The Two Faces of January, a mixed-bag adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel from the writer of Drive, opens in the shadow of the Parthenon, with a tour guide’s recounting of how Aegeus drowned himself, mistakenly believing that his son, Theseus, had been felled by the Minotaur. The ensuing scenes leave no doubt about the centrality of the father-son theme: that expat tour guide, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), opens an airmail letter from home wondering why he couldn’t find it in him to return home for his father’s funeral; he soon crosses paths with a newlywed American couple, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, seeing more than a little of his father in the husband, Chester, a couple decades older than his second wife, Colette.

While this “subtext” too often feels out-of-focus—a wobbly attempt to lend some thematic weight to the fugitive proceedings—writer-director Hossein Amini succeeds in gradually ratcheting up the suspense. He quickly burrows under what appearances might suggest—upstanding tourists strolling amid the white-stone ruins, clad in genteel shades of khaki—to show a trio of people quite desperately on the run across the far-flung continent. Agreeing to ferry around Chester and Colette, Rydal uses his Greek to negotiate with merchants, skimming more than a few drachmas off the top for himself. The scheme seems to go unnoticed, but after a dinner out with Rydal and a date in Athens, Chester nonetheless informs his wife that he “wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn.” Though the flush-with-cash Chester has a sure golden-boy gait, and claims to have helped liberate Paris, neither is he to be trusted: a rap on the hotel-room door and he’s cornered by a private detective, sent to collect the money he swindled from a stateside gambling syndicate.

The detective doesn’t come out of that room alive, as Chester sloughs off the man-who-has-everything act and keys in to his own apparent history of violence—Mortensen does his best work here when called upon to enact his character’s quick, squirmy slide into self-protective mode. As the couple makes haste away from the crime scene—along with Rydal, who sniffs an opportunity to make some money, get closer to Colette, and, more murkily, find the fatherly acceptance he never had—the setting removes to the Grecian isle of Crete. It’s almost as if their flight also takes them back in time from 1962, the surrounding landscape more elemental, the town-square inhabitants fewer and farther between.

Shot on location by Marcel Zyskind, The Two Faces of January certainly looks the part of a seductive Americans-abroad period piece, its off-white palette suited to revealing the grandeur of the Old World as well as calling attention to the glisten of sweat on its characters’ faces. But in addition to being too insistent about its dramatic heft as a story about failed fathers and twinned fates, its performances are typically least credible when passions are running high—Mortensen, so good at so much here, growls strangely through his angry-drunk scenes; there is meant as well to be sexual tension between Isaac and Dunst that is not particularly palpable. Perhaps it is all the more impressive, then, that Amini manages to keep his film gripping until its Istanbul chase-scene finale, ably pivoting from one reversal to another, carrying off the serpentine plot in what amounts to a decent homage to the Master of Suspense.

Opens September 26

09/10/14 4:00am

Bird People
Directed by Pascale Ferran

The majority of Bird People takes place at a Hilton overlooking the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle—the film depicts a decentered Paris, a place that people pass through, stuck in their own thoughts. The setting might call to mind Tati’s similarly airport-adjacent Playtime, but filmmaker Pascale Ferran grounds her feature in a randomness more stealthily magical than modern-life chaotic, establishing a sort of breezy melancholy. Early on, she zeroes in, one at a time, on individual commuter-train passengers, letting us into their headspace as they listen to music, make mundane calculations, or else give air to more intimate thoughts in internal monologue.

Here, the viewer is treated to practically a whole bus full of narrative possibilities, so the “story” that unfolds at first blush seems rather arbitrary, just one direction among many the film could’ve taken. Bird People’s first half concerns the San Jose native Gary Newman (Josh Charles, not entirely convincing at embodying anxiety), booked to connect to Dubai on business, who opts to hole up in his hotel room instead, raiding the minibar, quietly resolving to quit his job and leave his family; the second part follows a different character, Audrey Camuzet (a dreamy Anaïs Demoustier), working her way through college as a maid at that very same hotel. She undergoes an altogether more fantastical transformation (suffice it to say that this film features some impressively swooping aerial photography), but they both wind up finding their way to a tenuous freedom, managing to disconnect, for a moment, from their mounting sense of disconnection.

Despite its question-prompting construction and flight-from-reality theme, Bird People ultimately darts around too much to fit on the continuum that stretches from Hawthorne’s “Wakefield” through Azazel Jacobs’s Momma’s Man, stories about husbands going unaccountably absent from their perfectly fine home lives. The new movie’s screenplay, by Ferran and Guillaume Breaud, seems less interested in the mysteries of human behavior (it doesn’t generally hide character motivations) than in the little ripple effects of daily interactions (of course these two story lines have their points of intersection). Ferran, best known for her 2006 Lady Chatterley’s Lover adaptation, has made a film that, however slight, achieves a heightened sensitivity, attentive to the microclimates of feeling developing in the hotel’s rooms, hallways, and back offices—in short, the fleeting emotional states that begin to transmute this nowhere in particular into somewhere after all.

Opens September 12

08/27/14 4:00am

Directed by Tim Sutton

The unsettlingly serene Memphis is a second feature that looks in on one particularly extreme case of sophomore-slump anxiety—though this enveloping film is no sophomore slump itself. Brooklyn-based writer-director Tim Sutton follows a young recording artist (Willis Earl Beal, magnetically rambling in his first film, for which he also composed the ghostly music) as he walks along the city’s sidewalks, lays about his unfurnished house, and dodges questions from a label executive about when he’ll deliver his next album. Even the few glimpses here of the soul singer actually in the studio emphasize the basic estrangement of the recording process: each session player appears alone in his own shot, with only his individual instrument track audible.

Sutton’s debut, 2012’s Pavilion, was remarkable for presenting child-of-divorce dislocation with an almost evaporative calm, and here as well the filmmaker settles into a hypnotically laid-back rhythm. As shot by DP Chris Dapkins, Memphis itself often seems to be waiting for something to happen: the camera follows cars, observes aimless bike stunts, and admires the oak trees from below. Just as many of the images exhibit an internal drift, the film’s focus often strays from Beal to a handful of people within his orbit (a Caddy-driving associate, a sort-of girlfriend, and her boys). Even in the case of characters less spaced-out than the singer subject, action seems to further shroud intent, rather than reveal it: a ways into the film, that associate, driving by himself, pulls off the road, smashes the back window of his sedan, and then sits down in the backseat, where he stares at the small column of fire billowing forth from his cigarette lighter.

Portrait-of-place title and vivid on-location photography notwithstanding, Memphis remains an interior journey throughout its 75 minutes, treading through dark territory with strange ease, patiently illuminating the contours of its main character’s writ-large crisis of faith. Not only has he come to doubt his talent and grown impatient with industry process, he’s unable to find religion, though he’s evidently in search of it—he wanders in and out of Baptist services, and in the barroom struggles to articulate his wilder personal beliefs (straight-faced, he claims to consider himself a “sorcerer”). As he goes from one haunt to the next, he gradually burrows further into self-imposed isolation—though what looks like a personality breakdown to the viewer might well be some sort of back-to-nature transcendence to the protagonist. Eventually straddling an invisible line between reality and dream, Memphis winds up making the former feel like its own play of visions—theologies, mythologies, and works of art, none of whose creation comes easy.

Opens September 5 at IFC Center

08/13/14 4:00am

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Frank, a high-energy riff on the nature of artistic inspiration, offers a novel spin on the rock-and-roll head case. The title character, played by an American-accented Michael Fassbender, is the frontman of a virtually unknown noise-pop outfit called Soronprfbs; he is an unsung musical genius, he is ever-game to roughhouse, and, most peculiarly, he never lets anyone see his face, concealed as it is at all times under a cartoon-elliptical papier-mâché head with painted-on features. During a tour stop in one of Britain’s sleepy coastal cities, living-at-home aspiring songwriter Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds himself onstage as a last-minute fill-in on keyboards, and in short order holes up with the band in Ireland, where they plan to record their next album.

Despite the other members’ combustible personalities and considerable eccentricities, they remain fiercely dedicated to Frank and his vision (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy play his closest sidekicks). The singer is a cult figure with no cult save for his own backing band, and director Lenny Abrahamson briskly shows them go along with Frank’s off-the-wall songwriting method, a perfectionist process in which mumbled phrases and miniature field recordings eventually find themselves roiling within the same synth squall. Fassbender is an inspired choice for this title part; with just his voice and his posture he manages to convey a loopy enthusiasm that might also scan as unaccountable brokenness (the specter of mental illness hangs over the proceedings). Since the audience knows that the film is withholding its most famous face, the concern as to why only deepens.

During the band’s inadvertently lengthy stay in Ireland, much of which eager Jon sponsors with the “nest egg” his grandfather left him, the young man manages to bring his older bandmates a measure of (unasked-for) Internet-age success. Frank is sharpest when its characters are trying to torture the right sound out of their instruments, but it also spends a good bit of time knocking the black hole of social media. On account of Jon’s constant YouTube uploads, Tumblr entries, and tweets (which Abrahamson often displays on-screen), the keyboardist lands the band a gig at South by Southwest, at which point the prospect of fame unsettles their already shaky dynamic.

The Austin festival scenes might have an off-the-mark tie-in feel, but the twitchy Frank is otherwise improbably well modulated. The long-ago genesis of the character of Frank might give some clue as to why this film is able to so quickly transcend its central gimmick. Frank Sidebottom, a Brit singer with a huge fake head, was created by the late musician-comedian Chris Sievey during the prime of punk. The new film, co-written by Peter Straughan and Sievey’s former bandmate (and author in his own right) Jon Ronson, revives the character only to reimagine its backstory significantly. The resulting film is often inspired—an ultimately moving portrait of an artist conflicted about fielding an audience, and an impressively sustained look through the keyhole at how genius works.

Opens August 15

07/30/14 4:00am

Rich Hill
Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo

This year has proven that there still remains room for the coming-of-age film to grow. A trio of fiction features (Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love, Daniel Patrick Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces, and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood) peered in impressively close at some of the deeper mortifications and free-floating dangers of adolescence, and now the documentary Rich Hill carefully canvasses boys’ hopes and dreams as they endure tough circumstances. The film, directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos, takes its title from the tiny Missouri town where it’s set, focusing in on three of its young inhabitants over the course of what turns out to be a very trying year for each of them. Mild-mannered teen Andrew grows tired of his family’s constant relocating, his father being both unable and reluctant to find steady employment (his son describes his dad’s work in an apt slip-up: “oddball jobs”); curse-word-mumbling middle-schooler Appachey totes around his skateboard looking for trouble, trying the patience of his mother and his school as his anger swells; and cutup ICP fan Harley understandably struggles to contain his considerable rage as well, living with his grandmother as his mother serves time for attempting to murder her husband for
raping Harley.

Nothing feels particularly original about the enterprise of this film, which features George Washington-esque lyrical interludes, and seems to have taken some of its resilient tone and its three-strand structure from Alma Har’el’s more fabulist 2011 doc Bombay Beach (rougher domestic nonfiction analogues, such as Bill and Turner Ross’s Tchoupitoulas, also abound). But the filmmakers have nonetheless assembled some piercing footage. Andrew stands by as his dad goes about heating up water for his son’s bath (a pot simmers over a clothing iron, a coffeemaker runs), both water and gas having apparently long since been cut off in their home; on his 16th birthday, Harley winds up in the principal’s office, with the administrator sadly threatening to call a truant officer if Harley goes home “sick” yet again. Rich Hill distinguishes itself, in these moments, as straight engaged portraiture—we understand what makes these kids tick, and how much they need the love of what family they have left, no matter how much they sometimes seem determined to test it.

Opens August 1

07/16/14 4:00am

A Most Wanted Man
Directed by Anton Corbijn

As shaky-cam world-stage espionage thrillers go, A Most Wanted Man is fairly standard-issue: good solid tradecraft is on ample display, while the moral drag of working “in the shadows” (as Dick Cheney called it) pervades the atmosphere. What surplus gravity the movie does have is at least partially attributable to external factors: shortly after A Most Wanted Man’s Sundance premiere, of course, its indomitable lead actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, succumbed to a heroin overdose—as pale-faced operative Günther Bachmann, hanging on for dear life to a bottomless tumbler of scotch, he hauntingly embodies the movie’s world-weary soul—while its portrayal of the jurisdictional friction among various German and American intelligence bodies immediately summons to mind the real-life spy scandal now brewing between the two countries.

Adapted from a novel by Brit author John le Carré by Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell, and directed by Dutchman Anton Corbijn, A Most Wanted Man takes place on the trash-strewn streets of Hamburg, Germany. In the film’s opening shots, we see the River Elbe belch forth a mysterious bearded figure, soon identified in a grainy cell-phone snap by Bachmann’s scrappy anti-terror unit (his subordinates include Barbara herself, Nina Hoss, and Daniel Brühl, who is given little to do here besides sit expectantly while wearing headphones). The team tails Chechen jihadist Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) as he links up with a humanitarian lawyer (Rachel McAdams) and a big-shot banker (Willem Dafoe), in search of asylum and his deceased father’s fortune.

Bachmann at least proves methodical in his dirty work, constantly fending off others (including the CIA’s Robin Wright) who’d prefer a bruter-force approach: against others’ desire to swoop in and capture Issa, he preaches patience, hoping that the young man might help them snare a more prominent terror financier. While it spends most of its time contrasting different styles of global-affairs “realism” (it’s what you think vs. what you know), the film does also manage to sketch out complicated motives from all sides—despite a largely one-note portrayal, the half-Russian Issa emerges as a singularly tortured individual, while even murkier are the beliefs of a suave Muslim academic under suspicion from the start.

Corbijn’s last feature, 2010’s stylishly vaporous The American, tracked George Clooney’s lone-wolf assassin as he tried to lie low in Europe, and here he casts a number of North American actors as Germans, alongside actual Germans, though everyone speaks English. The director (a former photographer himself) and DP Benoît Delhomme ably capture the city’s grubbier precincts—its crumbling stone-building facades scrawled with graffiti, its airless dive bars, and even its fading-mod office interiors—but watching, say, Dafoe and McAdams converse with each other in their (otherwise passable) slow, staccato accents is enough to take you out of the movie’s high-tension environment.

Such off-putting moments actually happen to be the ones when Hoffman isn’t on-screen. Bachmann often seems to be curling into a defeated roly-poly slouch, but he nonetheless remains throughout a consummate actor himself, constantly soliciting the trust of colleagues and persons-of-interest alike. We are given just enough of his threadbare private life to imagine who this man might be with his guard down—not long before the film’s well-played finale, he sits down to tap out a few notes at an upright piano among his apartment’s telling bachelor-pad disarray (record collection, newspapers piled at the foot of an easy chair). This is not Lancaster Dodd–level work, but then again not much else is. One leaves A Most Wanted Man reminded of the sad fact that its star won’t be elevating such material any longer.

Opens July 25

06/18/14 4:00am

They Came Together
Directed by David Wain
Opens June 27

A romantic comedy that rips into romantic-comedy formula, this absurdist riff from the Wet Hot American Summer crew is a weirder endeavor than mere spoof—a sort of inside-out movie, perhaps. Lampooning a specific strain of adult-contemporary entertainment that doesn’t fully exist anymore, They Came Together sticks closely to the template of You’ve Got Mail, which was itself a remake of 1940’s Shop Around the Corner, as well as a bid to rebottle the Hanks-Ryan “chemistry”—here, Paul Rudd’s Joel is an employee of the monolithic Candy Systems and Research, which is threatening to close down the quaint Upper Sweet Side shop run by Amy Poehler’s Molly. As the main couple insist repeatedly in the story-within-a-story frame, their tale (like a movie, only it’s real!) just so happens to have a third main character: New York City itself.

This world manages to feel both unhinged and totally flat—characters are assigned jobs and apartments, but all the details, from the foreground behavior to the background decor, seem off. (Rudd lives with his brother, played by New Girl’s Max Greenfield, in a stuffy man-cave decorated with globes and road signs; the brother, introduced as a layabout entrepreneur, winds up working as a cabbie.) The additional supporting players (Christopher Meloni, Ed Helms, and Cobie Smulders, among others) generally do a good job at patrolling this space between loopy and homogenous, but nothing distracts much from the splendor of Rudd’s performance—playing it straight, he scans as oblivious to the idiocy of his surroundings rather than a willing participant in it. (Poehler, leaning more heavily on physical comedy—her character is an extravagant klutz—falls into the latter register.)

The State and Stella alums Wain and cowriter Michael Showalter—whose last film collaboration, Wanderlust, also starring Rudd, was a romantic studio comedy (and a more satisfying, and no less amusing, movie than They Came Together)—set up several gross-out gags and amplified pratfalls, but most of the humor here springs from the mangling of clichés. The movie often taps into the type of fast-and-loose nonsense reeled off by Michael Ian Black (another costar here) in The State’s Captain Monterey Jack Gen X PSA parodies: there are copious repetitions (Joel’s friends yell “Swish!” as they throw up bricks during a game of basketball), inversions of sentences (“Take a jerk, you hike”), and slight mispronunciations of well-known trademarks and names (iTones, Amazong, etc.). The result is a comedy that gleefully risks audience aggravation in establishing a surprising undertow—this New York looks like a dumbly sunny place, but it often sounds like these people are stuck in a prison of language.

06/04/14 4:00am

The Rover
Directed by David Michôd

Set 10 years after “the collapse” (of the world economy, that is), this post-apocalyptic drama is insistently bleak and brutally linear—a nasty piece of work, even by the genre’s already grim standards. Brand detritus litters the film’s heat-punished stretch of the Outback, as desolate as the surface of the moon, but the brand names have been pried off: the places of business have no signs, plastic water bottles have no logos, cars have no emblems. In the film’s first scene, the weathered Eric (Guy Pearce) staggers into a saloon for a glass of water, only to see a band of criminals making off with his dirt-caked sedan. This being his last worldly possession, he’s inclined to track the car down, and him being a totally unforgiving individual, he’s prepared to make the thieves pay once he does.

The flatness and sparseness of the landscape, combined with the fluid style of writer-director Michôd, make for some marvelously clean-lined action: a car chase down a straight-shot dirt road, an armed confrontation with a soldier outside a motel. The film settles more deeply into a contemplative vein, though, as Eric crosses paths with Rey (Robert Pattinson), the bumbling but kindly younger brother of one of the car thieves, left behind by them in the wake of a robbery-gone-wrong. Eric and Rey take to the road together, the former tolerating the latter only because he knows where his older brother might be heading. Meanwhile, The Rover occasionally almost suggests a sonic environment rather than a narrative proper—the soundtrack assembles ominous drones, minimalist composer William Basinski, and throwaway pop hits alongside sparse dialogue.

It’s not hard to guess whether the “halfwit” Rey has something to teach the far-gone loner Eric about the value of fellow feeling, but Pattinson is enough of a revelation to hold you through these more straight-ahead passages. Speaking with a Southern drawl and struggling through something of a stammer, the actor turns in a heavily (but not distractingly) mannered performance, portraying Rey as shell-shocked, chronically nervous about where his allegiances should lie.

Making his sophomore feature after 2010’s well-received crime-family drama Animal Kingdom, Aussie Michôd walks the line between his countryman John Hillcoat’s wider-scope after-nature parable The Road and Ted Kotcheff’s recently rereleased 1971 film Wake in Fright, a rollicking reckoning with the base instincts of man, set in a godforsaken Outback mining town. But though The Rover sticks rather closely to the standard post-apocalyptic mold, it’s distinctively textured enough to remain freshly alarming throughout—as stark every-man-for-himself testament, as nightmare environment, and as near-future conjecture.

Opens June 13 at the Sunshine and the AMC Lincoln Square

05/21/14 4:00am

Night Moves
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

The fifth feature from leading “neo-neo-realist” Reichardt concerns an act of ecoterror and its fallout, exploring a violent expression of hard-line idealism as it’s brought into a world in which nothing ever seems to go according to plan. The director, who has over her last three films (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff) honed a unique tacking-off-course narrative drift, has not only made a heavy suspense film, but one that’s also taut as a wire. Night Moves focuses on three Oregon environmentalists—a tight-lipped CSA farmer (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich-kid college dropout (Dakota Fanning), and a technical-logistics man (Peter Sarsgaard)—as they prepare to blow up a hydroelectric dam with a boatload of fertilizer.

As ever, Reichardt handles her leads expertly, ushering them fluidly through a scenario that requires a great deal of physical process and loaded, coded speech. As a cocksure ex-Marine, Sarsgaard gives a particularly vivid performance, his entire demeanor well summed up by his aggressively casual posture. Eisenberg (sweating it out under the same blue hoodie for the whole movie) and Fanning (playing a character who at the outset might be an even cooler customer than Sarsgaard’s) come to the fore in the conscience-plagued aftermath of their action at the dam, at which point nerves fray and paranoia mounts.

The dynamics of this small group are so well-drawn, the dialogue revealing the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in countless little insinuations (Reichardt cowrote the script with longtime collaborator Jon Raymond), that by comparison many of this film’s man-in-landscape compositions feel thuddingly unsubtle. We see the boat finally approach the water from the point-of-view of a couple in their RV, oblivious to what’s going on outside as they watch The Price Is Right from their plush pilot seats. As if to double-underscore the indifference of a populace that kills “all the salmon” in order to run their “fucking iPods” (in the weirdly anachronistic words of Josh), later on we get a pointed glimpse of jet skis buzzing along the shoreline, as well as kids playing with toy guns in a riverside field of tree stumps. These shots do at least serve a function in the telling of the tale: Reichardt seems to sympathize with her protagonists’ political stance before she begins to unwind the consequences of their methods. If this is not her most distinctive work to date, it’s the one that asks the most pressing moral questions—and the one in which the stakes feel highest.

Opens May 30

05/07/14 4:00am

The Double
Directed by Richard Ayoade

This season, moviegoers are being treated to quite the doppelgänger double feature: in Denis Villeneuve’s recent Enemy (adapting José Saramago and featuring Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor encounters an actor who looks just like him, touching off cold-sweat panic over the instability of identity and fidelity; in British director Ayoade’s new movie (drawing on Dostoyevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg), drone worker Simon James must confront his self-defeating tendencies when the identical James Simon appears. The former film takes place in an overcast Toronto with a surreal underbelly, and the latter in an unnamed urban zone that’s all discontinuous interiors. Even in a dystopic cityscape, it seems, nothing occasions more dread than the self’s competing instincts.

The Double, written by Ayoade and Avi Korine (brother of Harmony, who’s a producer here), is more approachable than the jagged Enemy, and it has a more traditional dramatic structure, but that’s not to say the film lacks for ambition of its own. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ayoade’s movie is that his cut-and-paste world feels so cohesive. Simon works in a cube farm where the data-processing machines resemble nothing so much as iron lungs, a document mill that suggests the Industrial Revolution has had a hangover well into the Information Age; after quitting time, he eats in a noir-lighted diner before retiring to his sparsely furnished one-room box of an apartment. While bearing the influence of past decades’ expressively gloomy sci-fi, The Double also has a hint of stiff Kaurismäkian deadpan, not to mention low-grade Modern Times malfunction slapstick, in its portrayal of a workaday choked by bureaucratic and mechanical process. And then there are the cameos: J Mascis rolls a janitor’s bucket past a building’s incinerator, Paddy Considine appears as some sort of intergalactic badass in an always-on TV show, and Ayoade’s fellow IT Crowd cast member Chris O’Dowd turns up doing hospital paperwork.

It’s against this backdrop that Simon meets the charming lout James, bristling with confidence and possessing no regard for anyone but himself. Simon’s boss calls him by the wrong name (Stanley), while James gets promoted for work that Simon toiled over. Simon pines for flighty copy-room assistant Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), but that doesn’t stop the womanizing James from attempting to make her yet another conquest. The Double comes to concern Simon’s attempts to gain the upper hand in this struggle against his two-faced twin, and he’s easy to root for on account of Eisenberg’s typically appealing self-effacement (as James, the actor removes any and all hesitations in his speech), making the movie work in the relatively unusual dark-comedy-of-self-actualization vein. At one point, Simon confesses to feeling “permanently outside myself,” and Ayoade is able to get inside that sense. More than an existential freakout, his film addresses the anxiety that the daily grind might be stamping out what’s human about its subordinates.

Opens May 9 at the Sunshine