“We’re not in Italy anymore, this is Staten Island, we drink shitty beer, we jerk off, and we hold grudges. That’s what we do here.” With this perfectly delivered line, Sasha (Alex Karpovsky) sets the tone for the emotional woes and complexities of the characters in Sam Neave’s Almost in Love. While it’s yet another movie about 30-something friends and their day-to-day problems, Almost in Love does distinguish itself from the mass of mumblecore and comedies of manners from the past two decades by means of a virtuoso aesthetic trick: the film is comprised two single takes of 40 minutes each. In the first, Sasha (Alex Karpovsky) is hosting a barbecue party on his terrace as the sun sets. The guests begin to arrive, and we soon realize there is more at stake here than a mere gathering of friends once his ex-girlfriend Mia (Marjan Neshat) appears. Sasha is still secretly in love with her and things become messy once his close friend Kyle (Gary Wilmes) shows up uninvited and a love triangle is slowly unraveled. In the second half, which takes place eighteen months after the first scene, it is Sasha’s wedding party and, surprisingly enough, he is not marrying Mia, but Faye (Gretchen Hall). This time around it’s evening and the scene plays out with almost the same cast while the sun slowly rises. Even if the emotional configuration is slightly different, the message seems to be the same: love can be a messy, confusing ordeal.
While the technical gimmick is quite impressive and impeccably carried out by skillful cinematographer Daniel McKeown, Almost in Love is ultimately a talkie, and talkies need strong, witty dialogue. It’s not easy to relate to wealthy metropolitans, especially those of the young, successful and pretentious variety. The talented cast does a decent job in delivering their lines (which quite often feel improvised), even if the theater-like feel of the long single takes does take away some of the naturalistic spontaneity and wit that directors such as Whit Stillman and Woody Allen have perfected. The highlight, of course, is Alex Karpovsky, who seems to be everywhere of late and who is largely responsible for keeping the film above water. Still, he is not working with a particularly interesting script, and most of the dialogue ends up being comprised of dreary party talk — especially during the second half of the film when not even the slick photography can save the drunken party gibberish.
Maybe Sam Neave was simply trying to go for a faithful recreation of a bourgeois metropolitan party. The problem is that, having taken part in several of these parties myself, I can safely state I wouldn’t mind if I never attended one again. Last year saw a similar film called Richard’s Wedding in which a cast of annoying, despicable characters got together for a wedding celebration. But while in Richard’s Wedding, the overblown antipathy we felt for those characters created an offbeat and challenging viewing experience, Almost in Love never truly manages to create compelling characters or memorable dialogue. Still, the formal inventiveness is interesting, and while the film doesn’t quite stand out from the similar movies it draws its inspiration from, it will certainly be a good watch for Alex Karpovsky fans like me.