Long before there was “mumblecore,” the sudden discovery that movies could be about conversation and almost nothing else, there was the theatrical “two hander.”
Plays like “Night, Mother” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “True West” and “Waiting for Godot” and “Same Time Next Year” are the true antecedents of a film like “Dylan & Zoey,” a talking, downbeat two-hander about two childhood friends reuniting, discussing their lives and confessing their “issues.”
It’s not bad, as any film grappling with adult subjects and trauma automatically has a certain license and indulgence from the viewer. There’s an acting highlight or two.
If it fails — and it does– that falls on the depressing familiarity of those “issues” and performances that don’t elevate the tragic material often enough to wholly engage us. The pathos is subdued. The humor, what attempts there are at it, barely merits a smile. The whole plays as flat, never quite hitting a high, never remotely touching bottom.
Dylan, played by co-writer Blake Scott Lewis, is a writer and cartoonist working in LA. Zoey (Claudia Doumit) is the old friend who keeps photos of their good times together and long history on her phone, but has a hard time calling him up to let her know she’s in town.
They haven’t quite achieved “‘Happy birthday’ text message” separation, he notes. But their connection is long dormant. We wonder if her “here for a wedding” story is true. We wonder what the nature of their relationship was. We wonder what old wounds are about to be opened.
But we don’t wonder long. As their chat turns to chatter we pick up on his “28 year old virgin” status, which eliminates the thought they might have been a couple. And the moment he says “I’m no longer Catholic” we guess why that might be. That turns out to be one of the film’s few attempted dark jokes.
“I was an altar boy for six years. Why not me?”
No, he wasn’t molested in church. That happened closer to home.
And lest we think the sexy, sexual and sexually blunt Zoey is just here for the empathy, we learn about her rape, which of course Dylan knows all about.
Lewis, co-writing with director Matt Sauer, puts the two friends in a day and night-long conversation, sends the two out to a club and comes to conclusions that any sentient viewer will see coming a mile off.
The shared trauma wasn’t what connected them, which might have been interesting. As hers came much later, that moves that subtext into the realm of scripted “hook” or “gimmick.”
Doumit — of TV’s “The Boys” — has an exotic Lake Bell vibe about her, and scores when Zoey picks up Dylan’s ukulele and sings an adorable self-analytical tune that uses the styles of famous painters to describe her self-criticism, self-worth and state of mind. She doesn’t have enough to play to make this character interesting. A bit coarse, a little vulgar, maybe over-compensating due to her trauma, but maybe not.
Lewis, an actor, writer and director with TV credits for series I’ve never heard of (“In the Moment” aired or streamed where?) has written himself a character with a big trauma scarring his psyche, but plays the guy so blandly it’s hard to make the jump from sympathy to empathy.
Two-handers became popular “Let’s create work for ourselves” film projects during the pandemic, and some of those (“7 Days” for instance) turned out great. This has that a couple of bar/nightclub scenes, which suggest it could have been made late in the lockdown.
It’s sensitive enough. But with or without those lockdown confines, there just isn’t enough of a story arc to engage us, not enough going on and going wrong to make their stories 80 minutes worth of compelling.
Rating: unrated, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Blake Scott Lewis, Claudia Doumit
Credits: Directed by Matt Sauter, scripted by Matt Sauter and Blake Scott Lewis. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:22