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THE COLOR WHEEL – a dark, yet brief moment

Indie artsy films where unlikable people never shut the fuck up is commonplace in a movie community teeming with film students armed with HD cameras and MacBook Pros. It takes a magic ingredient to be the standout, watchable experience.

Alex Ross Perry’s THE COLOR WHEEL should blog the recipe.

The film centers around JR, an actress with hopes of being a weather girl for a major market, and her brother Colin who has been solicited to take a short road trip from New York to Vermont to help her move out of the house of the professor-boyfriend that just dumped her.

JR is annoying. Nobody in the family can stand her. Colin is weird and can’t shut up. And in the end, they’re the only people that can tolerate each other in a world full of losers.

JR and Colin
Colin (played by Alex Ross Perry) and JR (played by Carlen Altman)

THE COLOR WHEEL marks the second time Perry teamed with cinematographer Sean Price Williams to unearth a 16mm film camera for his 2011 sophomore effort. But it isn’t just the grainy, soft, fuzzy (and totally not 1080p) look that sets it apart from other mumblers.

Nor is it simply the appreciated descent from art film sternness to goofball humor, which is sometimes delivered in a dumpy dad way. Although when the jokes stick, it’s hilarious. For instance, the scene where a millennial party goer, confined to a wheelchair due to polio, gives applause by pedaling back and forth on the carpet.

From the second we meet the brother and sister, we cannot stop watching them despite our dislike for them.

Why are we pulled? Not sure. Perry can’t put his finger on it, either: “I’ve still not been able to articulate what it is that I find attractive about someone who is ostensibly unlikeable. It’s just the part of their lives that I want to find them in is the point at which they are really at an ebb.”

“It’s not that they’re bad people,” Perry continues. “When someone’s really hurting, and they’re really doing everything they can to really just push away everyone who’s trying to help them. That’s just a phase.”

Colin and JR in a Diner

The film doubles down on the awkward when we see JR and Colin having to interact with others instead of just each other, ultimately building to the most satisfying ending I’ve seen in recent viewing.

THE COLOR WHEEL may be a movie for hardcore cinephiles; after all, most people don’t even like black and white movies let alone outdated 16mm. And maybe with unlimited streaming options, a movie watcher shouldn’t have to bear takes of young actors fumbling over their lines. Perry’s flaw is that he makes art house movies in a time where art houses don’t exist—where the living room is the theater of choice.

But cinephiles will be understanding of the long error filled takes, the moments of precious time printed to actual film. Knowledgeable viewers will note that the actor playing Colin memorizes his pages of closing dialogue better than the actress he’s opposite of because Colin is played by Perry, the writer and director.

I’m personally thankful for discovering Perry’s movies, having heard him on an episode of The Bret Easton Ellis podcast, where Ellis praises Perry for going against relatability in a time where audiences demand likability from characters.

These days, watching movies can be kind of a lonely and quiet experience. We writhe with Perry’s characters, and in the final moments, our hearts race with anticipation and thump with payoff as we, like the downward transcending siblings rim lit by headlights, grasp to whatever we have left in this existence.

And then, “Is That Loving In Your Heart” by the Lovelites plays as the credits roll at the end of a dark, yet brief moment in time.

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