SXSW 2017: GEMINI Evokes Hollywood Noir

One of the great joys of film festivals for movie nerds such as myself is walking into a film that you know virtually nothing about. That in and of itself can be a rare treat to someone who is almost always familiar with a filmmaker or cast member or has been barraged by a marketing campaign.

Having been entirely unaware of filmmaker Aaron Katz’ previous body of work (even though he was an Austin-based filmmaker for many years before transitioning to L.A.), walking into Gemini was that kind of experience. Blind trust in the SXSW programming team, and a vague awareness that the film starred Lola Kirke as a Hollywood personal assistant.

Having myself been a production assistant in the world of film production for a couple of years, I found myself instantly connected to the world Jill LeBeau (Kirke’s character) inhabits in Gemini. Long, seemingly endless work days, weird requests, a hazy work life/social life balance, and more or less doing things that the person paying you simply doesn’t want to do. In this case, Kirke plays the personal assistant to Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz), an in demand actress who’s been in the game since her teens and is beginning to feel burned out from all the crazy fans and paparazzi and might even be willing to break some contracts in order to get away from it all.

But before all that, Katz introduces us to the world he’s crafting through an evocative “dirty south meets Raymond Chandler” electronic score and deft camera work that paints a colorful portrait of L.A.; one reminiscent of Chinatown or L.A. Confidential… a more classical L.A. where crimes of passion and well-dressed detectives piece together mysteries.

And piecing together a mystery is exactly what Jill finds herself doing after a shocking development interrupts her version of normal… which is bouncing from meeting to party with Heather always at her hip. Enter Detective Edward Awn (John Cho), who is now conducting an investigation and has Jill high on his list of suspects. With great economy of script, all the socializing that Jill and Heather were doing in the first act of the film becomes the body of characters who we will all consider or suspect in the shocking crime that has happened. And weirdly, Jill’s skills as a successful Hollywood assistant seem to make her equally adept as an impromptu detective, even if she’s not very good at being a fugitive.

Obviously commenting on the Hollywood lifestyle and the bubble that fame and wealth places around the minds of those swept up in it, Katz’s film is presenting characters who represent various roles in Hollywood with knowing candor. We’re introduced to producers and directors who can’t shake themselves out of storytelling and business mode, even when a massive real life crime comes crashing into their lives. They aren’t necessarily portrayed as sociopaths, but definitely hugely self-involved. Jill isn’t too far above the fray in that regard, but perhaps, just maybe, this incident, and her reliance on her own wiles to piece together a mystery, could shake her out of her Hollywood haze?

Gemini is a cool, often funny, and well-crafted Hollywood mystery poking a little fun at the industry that they certainly had to work within in order to create the movie itself. It’s not too heavy on the commentary, however, with each character feeling lived in and fleshed out. Though effectively stylized, Gemini is more like what would happen if a hard-boiled mystery came crashing into the lives of today’s real life Hollywood personalities. They’d schedule lunch meetings rather than walk into a private detective’s smoke filled office. With Gemini, I consider myself an instant fan of Aaron Katz’ work and will gladly seek out some of his other films. With this cast and hook, Gemini could be poised to break wider than Katz’ previous work, and it deserves it.

And I’m Out.

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