Sometimes we have a visceral response when we sit down to watch a movie. Within the first five minutes, we get a sense that we are going to either love or loathe the film. It can be difficult to control and ignore that feeling so that we can see what happens next and judge the movie by what it is and not our first impression. Sometimes, we are rewarded for not going with our gut and other times everything that follows those first five minutes only reinforces that first feeling.
Watching “3rd Street Blackout,” which is produced by, co-written by, co-directed by, and stars Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf, the first impression offered of the main characters, Mina Shamkhali (Farsad) and Rudy Higgins (Redleaf) is wholly negative. Text messages appear on the screen in ludicrous colors as the two carry on a conversation despite being 10 feet from one another. We are not meant to know that they are so close, but it is a pleasant surprise because it means these texts, which read as horrible jokey loving drivel, will stop and with luck the characters’ speech will be less grating.
It is not. Will they use her Netflix account or his? Why would they decide to use the queue from one and the account from the other? Who cares how many Roku boxes they have? This is what is discussed the first time they speak and seems meant as some sort of cute and clever way to talk about all the ways technology has changed how we merge our lives with someone. Instead, it makes Mina and Rudy feel exceptionally shallow. This sense is borne out as one watches the film unfold.
Every conversation with one or both of the characters seems to feature some sort of voice modulation or whine or—and I’ll grant you that this is the opposite but it’s no less bad—a completely and totally flat line reading, as though it is the first time this dialogue has ever been seen. Those problems though, as one might surmise, aren’t the only issues with “3rd Street Blackout.”
Their manner of speaking alone may make Mina and Rudy an unlikable couple, but their actions make them insufferable. Denizens of 3rd Street in Manhattan, Mina and Rudy are on opposite career trajectories – Mina is doing neurological research and a TED fellow (Farsad is a TED fellow in real life), whereas Rudy is a freelance coder. Rudy seems to not care about pursuing greater success, as evidenced by his apathetic attitude when he and two friends who, magically, are even more obnoxious than the main characters, win a hackathon, whereas Mina is career driven to the point where she’s no longer around all that much.
And there’s the nub of the film – these two characters one wouldn’t want to watch separately are having trouble being together. Then, when Hurricane Irene (or perhaps Superstorm Sandy) hits and the city has a blackout, the two have a conversation and things fall apart. Now, they would have fallen apart anyway because it’s completely random that Mina comes home just prior to the storm, but the lack of electricity is meant to throw their relationship into stark relief. Perhaps this is because they can’t Netflix and chill.
“3rd Street Blackout” features a series of cameos including folks like Janeane Garofalo and John Hodgman but precisely why is indiscernible. They add little to enjoy in a highly unlikable mix. Ed Weeks stays around longer but is ill-used as a venture capitalist with whom may Mina may have had a one-night stand (yes, he then is the immediate cause of the breakup, but not part of the deeper issues).
Someone, somewhere, will make the argument that this is an accurate representation of life and love for perhaps millennials/perhaps slightly older people in the 21st Century. As a part of that slightly older than millennial group, I hope not. The people portrayed in this film are folks who go down to the East River to try and get cell service from Brooklyn and then actually mock the individuals who are doing the exact same thing. They are hipsters who make fun of other hipsters for being hipsters. Perhaps they would suggest that they aren’t a part of that culture and such a discussion will no doubt have something to do with the length of Rudy’s beard, his lack of a handlebar mustache, and their not making pickles. They are quibbles that miss the larger point.
The entirety of “3rd Street Blackout,” in fact, misses the larger point. Unlikable people doing unlikable things and being repeatedly dreadful to those around them doesn’t make for a comedy and it doesn’t make for a romance. It just makes something unlikable.
photo credit: Paladin