The Color Wheel (2011)

Viewed February 6th

In this Alex Ross Perry film, a brother and sister with a rocky past converge for a road trip up the east coast.

Spoilers ahead...

The Color Wheel takes some getting used to. On a formal level, it's grainy 16mm look, sound recording, and rough-around-the-edges approach to camera placement initially registers as a sort of student film project. And, likewise, the flow of the scenes and the way the actors speak feels a bit awkward. It's like those involved have good taste in movies but aren't quite executing it all properly. And yet, it has this sense of endearing, provocative honesty about it. The brother character, Colin, is offhandedly, knowingly racist in this way that's not OK or ironically cool but also accurate about how not OK or ironically cool white hipsters can be. So you go with it and you see where this rumbling, stumbling train is heading. The problem with this somewhat skeptical wait-and-see viewpoint, though, is that the viewer assumes The Color Wheel is trying to feel like other films. You can see nods to a pantheon of American indie filmmakers, but The Color Wheel isn't just a mishmash of Alex Ross Perry's favorite movies. It's its own kind of thing.

Before you know it, you have to admit that the script has roped you into its very particular half-realistic/half-absurdist worldview and its estranged yet vaguely sexual relationship between the brother and sister. They have become two distinct characters that function as types in the landscape of post-collegiate millennial life and as their own singular people. And you start to see the possibility for where their relationship might be going in the way that sex functions in their discussions. And then everything begins to feel much more intentional and intelligently directed toward the remarkably provocative, but also clearly inevitable climax. Their sex scene is this great mixture of natural and unnatural and it feels like it's hitting the exact right note they wanted it to. It's one of the most successful gestures yet created among millennial American filmmakers. And, similarly, the rough approach to form begins to feel less accidental and more intentional because the way the movie is about itself molds itself to the way characters are. If you were going to make a movie about Colin and J.R., it should feel educated and aware but also kind of annoying and not-yet-formed. It all clicks into place.