“Anya” begins with a love story, and we don’t believe it for a second.
Its moments of whimsy have a forced, static quality, and never feel anything but scripted, contrived and stiff.
But taken as science fiction, which is what this is, “Anya” is a provocative tale of human genetics, cultural isolation and ethnic necessity grafted onto an unlikely coupling and what that couple wants out of this relationship.
Libby (Ali Ahn of “The Landline” and TV’s “Billions”) has dragged Marco (Gil Perez-Abraham) to the ramshackle boat a former beau (Motell Gyn Foster) lives on. She and Marco have married, and want to have children.
But something isn’t working, and Marco’s answer about the cause isn’t likely to pass muster with evolutionary geneticist Seymour (Foster).
“He’s cursed,” Libby declares. Marco was warned that “anyone who left the community could never have kids.”
“The community?” That would be a corner of the South Bronx called “Little Narwhal.” Marco’s “people” speak something like Spanish, and are from an island in the Caribbean given the unlikely appelation, “Narwhal Island.”
Seymour is intrigued enough to have Libby fill him in on her unlikely courtship, marriage and attempts at procreating with Marco. Emails prompt flashbacks.
She is older and more “experienced,” something she figured out when she (a reporter) met him. Marco was wearing exotic garb which, apparently, he’d sewn himself. He is gorgeous, so we get the sexual attraction.
But they met the day he was kicked out of his community. He has no experience of New York outside his tiny corner of it, no profession.
“How old are you?” she wants to know. “The right age” is his only answer.
Even given Libby’s intense desire to have a child, this isn’t much to build a relationship on, real or fictional.
Flashbacks skip through the tentative (and wholly illogical) courtship, and Libby’s organized, calendar-tracking attempts at procreation. Early misscarriages abound.
That’s where Seymour comes in. He takes a swab from Marco and Libby’s mouthes, and analyzes the DNA these show them. An expert on Neanderthal DNA turns out to be the perfect one to confront what he finds. Marco’s people are a whole new subset of humanity, one unable to procreate with cute Korean-American reporters.
The most interesting potential element of co-writers/directors Carylanna Taylor and Jacob Akira Okada’s film is its depiction of a tiny subculture, tucked away in plain sight in a New York neighborhood. They gather at a hidden (not really open to the public) bookstore, sing and dance in their native tongue, and shun anyone who leaves their “family.”
There’s a hint of Orthodox Judaism to this sectarian world of what one can only describe as “ethnic purity,” where genetics limit the dating pool so severely that arranged marriages are the rule and group intimidation of those who try to “leave” is the norm.
Foster’s Seymour is the focus of the film as we visit him in his lab, where he discusses the ethics of this research with colleagues and assistants. But for a guy so obsessed with discovering and “publishing,” he can’t seem to even locate this “unicorn” island where these people came from. Isn’t there a geographer on the faculty?
It’s a sci-fi “fairytale,” a I guess. And as such, it’s sorely lacking.
That points to “Anya’s” overarching shortcoming. You can have an interesting milieu and subject, but the lack of evidence of a “love story” driving the narrative leaves it kind of heartless. Libby’s “ticking biological clock” is never addressed as a motive. We simply see a pregnancy magazine. And brooding Marco is pretty to look at, and temperamental.
But what could they possibly TALK about? I mean, meeting somebody in New York is supposedly nigh on impossible, but seriously. The blasé dialogue is a reflection of that.
And lacking the charm or warmth the story should hang on in order to work, we’re just left with a quirky scientist and the unhappy mismatched folks who want to bring a child into the world because…they just want to, OK?
It’s interesting, all right. That’s just not enough.
MPA Rating: unrated, sexual situations
Cast: Ali Ahn, Gil Perez-Abraham, Motell Gyn Foster
Credits: Written and directed by Jacob Akira Okada, Carylanna Taylor. A First Encounter release.
Running time: 1:20