Peter and Vandy Dir. Jay DiPietro

[Strand Releasing; 2009]

On their first date, Vandy (Jess Weixler) observes to Peter (Jason Ritter) that she is already nitpicking at their inchoate relationship. Given that director Jay DiPietro's Peter and Vandy jumps around in chronology, it's a peculiar instance of dramatic irony: The scene takes place just before the end of the film, and by this point, the audience has already witnessed the couple analyzing each other's flaws ad nauseum for most of the movie. Playing with the sequence of narrative events is not exactly a groundbreaking cinematic technique, but it can be quite effective in certain cases. In Memento, for instance, telling the story entirely backwards forced the audience to relate to the protagonist's dilemma and turned the typical mystery plot on its head. Unfortunately, in Peter and Vandy, DiPietro seems to employ the technique because, otherwise, his film would be fairly straightforward and insubstantial.

Peter and Vandy are both upwardly mobile New Yorkers with jobs in creative fields – he is an architect, and she an art dealer. After a shaky first meeting in a park, Peter manages to win Vandy over through riffing on her unusual name (perhaps the only interesting thing about her character) in a crossword puzzle. They fall in love with each other, although at different times, and that lack of sync becomes representative of their relationship as a whole. Despite loving one another, the pair can never seem to get on the same page: when she wants to go out, he wants to order in; when he wants to make love, she wants to watch TV; yada, yada, yada.

Although the film begins and ends on upbeat notes, it mostly consists of the pair arguing over the minutia of these differences of opinion. As anyone who caught the above Seinfeld reference might agree, there are times when Peter and Vandy feels like an extended episode of that sitcom, but without the cathartic humor. Moreover, Seinfeld was the perfect show for its particular time and place. In this era of unemployment, endless war, and recession, it's particularly silly to watch two people argue over whether to use one or two knives to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the comfort of a beautiful New York City apartment that neither one could realistically afford. If Larry David is able to acknowledge and laugh at his own and others' constant pursuit of self-interest, DiPietro simply glosses over it.

This isn't to say the film is a complete failure. If it's designed to reflect on the nature of relationships, there are certainly many moments where we feel as though we are watching a real couple. DiPietro may even err on the side of making their romance too universal, especially when he tries to focus on the positive side of love. While he finds many hyper-specific mini-topics for the couple to argue about, there is never one moment that makes us understand why they need to be together -- which is unfortunate, since that's the film's, you know, ultimate statement. Indeed, DiPietro leaves us with the feeling that love is nothing more than arguments sugar-coated with generalizations about the need for companionship.

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