Person to Person Directed by Dustin Guy Defa

Person to Person Directed by Dustin Guy Defa
Courtesy of Sundance

9
After directing a feature (2011's Bad Fever) and a slew of shorts, Dustin Guy Defa's Person to Person film is a little bit of both. The film weaves together multiple arcs to create an anthology of short stories about present-day New Yorkers.

That audacious choice could be a warning sign for self-indulgent mediocrity or on-the-nose hipness, but Person to Person is an absolute triumph, pairing subtle humour and a relaxed pace to spread a message about human tenderness.

The true star of Person to Person is Benny, a barely fictionalized version of Guy Defa's real-life friend Bene Coopersmith. Though he's not an actor, Coopersmith lends an air of humility and modesty to his performance by simply being himself — his electric tufts of hair and eccentric personality lend the film an addictive authenticity. 

Benny is an avid record collector who embarks on a cross-city trek when he's told an impossibly rare, red-vinyl Charlie Parker release has just surfaced. When the transaction proves to be less than legit, he winds up on a medium-speed bicycle chase.

Elsewhere, Abbi Jacobson lends her quiet demeanour to the role of Claire, a fledgling journalist attempting to stomach her first day on the job alongside the desperate-to-impress metal fanatic Phil (a masterfully dorky Michael Cera). The two wind up tracking a potential murder mystery revolving around a clock store operated by Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall).

Rookie entrepreneur Tavi Gevinson proves once again that she's an actor to watch in the role of Wendy, a neurotic teen frustrated by her best friend Melanie (It Follows' Olivia Luccardi), who constantly ghosts  on her to bump uglies with her boyfriend. Then there's Ray (George Sample III), a soft-spoken sad-sack who's just fucked things up with the love of his life.

Though subtle, the performances in Person to Person are fantastic, with each actor bringing the most to their roles. And while the stories are loosely intertwined, Guy Defa is wise to avoid overreaching in his efforts to connect them. In a post-screening Q&A, the filmmaker said his comedic sensibility is entirely influenced by Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts strip, and Person to Person similarly feels like a collection of comic strips come to life.

With a solid batch of stories in place, Guy Defa hits an aesthetic home run, too. Shot in mouth-watering 16mm film and featuring a stunning soundtrack of Numero Group soul, the film's look, sound and story come together like a long, warm hug. While Person to Person's subtle brilliance may be lost on some, there hasn't been a New York-set film this warm and fun since Frances Ha. (Park Pictures)