The Color Wheel | Movie review
There’s more than meets the eye in this transgressive micro-budget indie.
Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel begins as a scrappy, antagonistically funny road comedy and ends as something altogether stranger. With apologies to The Cabin in the Woods, it may be the year’s most difficult American indie to write about—at least in a way that doesn’t either spoil its ultimate destination or, conversely, ignore its most interesting elements. Perry casts himself as Colin, an unkempt twentysomething copywriter who lives in the basement of his parents’ home and delivers withering asides with the nervous-quick dork-livery of Michael Cera. Carlen Altman, who cowrote the script with Perry, plays his unemployed, budding-newscaster sister, JR, who’s roped him into going with her to pick up the belongings she’s left with a former lover. Their bickering cross-state odyssey, shot on gorgeously grainy, black-and-white 16mm, plays out through folk-scored, open-road montages and back-and-forth insult sessions that speak to the complicated nature of adult sibling relationships.
All of this may sound vaguely mumblecore-ish, but Perry is too precise in his dialogue, and too deliberate in his New Wave–inspired aesthetic choices, to be lumped in with the likes of Joe Swanberg or the Duplass brothers. His comedic sensibilities are loopier, too; in one of the film’s broader gags, the road-tripping relatives pose as husband and wife when checking into a motel, only to be confronted with the posted policy that “All Married Couples Must Kiss.” The Color Wheel proves jaggedly inconsistent, alternating grueling, pitch-perfect gauntlets of discomfort (JR’s reunion with her ex) with miscalculated sketch-comedy situations (a party scene that plays like a bad Cassavetes spoof). Then the climax arrives and it’s such a doozy—transgressive and oddly moving in equal measure—that it reshapes the entire movie in retrospect. Wait, we’ve said too much already, haven’t we?