Nudity has been called “the most inexpensive F/X” and Gabi on the Roof in July (Mar 3, 5pm, Cam 12) uses it thoroughly. But after a while you get used to the jaybirdocity of Gabi (Sophia Takal, who co-directed) and get more interested in the arguments she and co-director/co-writer Lawrence Michael Levine make about ways of conducting oneself.
Two figures face each other over the gulf of being twenty-something: 20 year old Gabi, an Oberlin student just about to launch into her wildest decade. Her brother Sam (Levine) is just about 30. It’s summer in Brooklyn…cinematographer Aaron Kovalchik envisions it as one long roof-party, humid and pleasing, but with indifferent conversation and never enough beer. (The sound is also very professional; let no man call Gabi… mumblecore.)
Into this milieu comes the witty art brat Gabi, to mooch three months of lodgings off of Sam, a serious painter on the cusp of either making it or breaking it. Gabi wants into the art racket herself. She calls loafing, playing nude Twister and getting her body covered with whipped cream her own form of art. What Gabi really is, despite her genuine charm, is selfish. But is Sam much better?
The blame for these two characters’ flaws is (inevitably) placed on Sam and Gabi’s divorced parents. But the ways of the acting out are significantly different. Gabi’s willfulness is like the last flush of childhood; she carries around a pet hamster, for instance. Sam’s own cheating on his faithful girlfriend with the significantly-named Chelsea (Amy Seimitz), a sharp-featured, affluent art world scenester, has a different rationale: that affair is a mix of fascination and ambition.
The movie has a great ear for art-gabble. At the gallery where she works, Chelsea comments, “When the visitors come in, we want them to feel that they’re immersed in New York art culture, so they don’t have to feel that they have to search it out.” And the incident of an older art gallery manager’s meltdown at Sam’s studio has the air of a 100% true story.
Gabi’s deliberate sabotage of a job interview is both a taste of her tangy charm and her maddening self-centeredness. Takal’s Gabi is the opposite of the typical healing-pixie, endemic to the indie movie. Levine’s very good acting recalls Elliot Gould in 1970s films; Gould was the actor with the best bullshit detector, yet who always played characters who always seemed to fool themselves.
Gabi on the Roof in July is hipster Rohmer, with locovorism and nudism adding spice to laziness. It’s a celebration and critique of that stage of life when one travels in packs and sleeps in piles, like hamsters.
In subsequent films, Levine might want to thin that pack a little. Gabi on the Roof in July goes wrong-foot-forward by starting us out at a dinner party with characters who don’t all end up important to the plot. Keeping us a little off-put at first might be part of the design, though. These characters are New Yorkers, no matter how idle they look, and they’re always trying to find out who is whom, always measuring each others’ marital status, social importance, and sexual preference. Ultimately, Gabi on the Roof in July is an unusually strong example of starting-out filmmaking. This movie is about the self-indulgentsia, but it’s not in the least self-indulgent.