They seem like such a nice couple. He’s strolling around the grounds of their gated subdivision in his robe on a chilly winter’s morning. She’s sleeping in.
When she wakes, she wants him to repeat a “lost at sea/remember why we made the journey together” toast he once made to her. He’s got her first cocktail of the day in hand, a mimosa from the looks of it.
They are from different parts of the world. He’s Middle Eastern. She’s Eastern European, perhaps Russian, and English is their common language. But Nijm and Irina plainly communicate in more physical ways, with or without alcohol erasing any inhibitions.
But within a few minutes, we figure out that they don’t actually belong here. This McMansion in suburban Chicago (Palatine, Ill.)? This open bar? That mink stole? “Borrowed.”
They are “Grasshoppers,” just another word for squatters of the “locust” family. They have the run of almost this entire neighborhood of second homes whose wealthy owners winter in warmer climes.
Writer-director Brad Bischoff’s debut feature is a day-in-the-life riff on squatting, class and class resentment, aspirations, love and “family.” It makes a compelling, compact showcase for stars Iva Gocheva and Saleh Bakri. They play lovers who happen to be alcoholic outlaws.
Over the course of the day, they drink their way around their corner of the world, breaking into houses, crashing a realtor’s “open house” and invited in by the few neighbors still around, who accept their improvised lies and casual chutzpah as evidence that they “belong.”
This couple, whose refer to each other as “husband” and “wife,” are co-dependent co-conspirators. He is something of a revolutionary, rudely muttering resentful insults at the “haves” that have what he never will, and more than their share of it, to boot. He might be right, but he’s quite the jerk about it, even to a realtor, a restaurant’s sommelier, a friendly customer or neighbor who bends over backwards to “be nice” and never quite patronizing.
She is talking about “family” and “the future,” in the way women in societies all over the world do. She might be pregnant. But sure, a chocolate martini would be great! Because there couldn’t be a “future” in living like this, and with this guy.
Oh, and that open house? What better way to stick it to the man than having sex in these absentee landowners’ bathroom?
Bischoff has grafted a “Days of Wine and Roses” romantic bender onto what is normally a more fraught “Homeless in America” story, with the geopolitics of migration and the unseemly accumulation of wealth by the tax-privileged rich as subtexts.
Bischoff has created a bracing first feature in which society’s designated losers mask their bitterness in contempt and their desperation in alcohol.
Bakri and Gocheva let us see the flawed logic and painful realizations that this couple are not “really THESE people,” the sorts who own multiple McMansions and decorate in the “a bit gaudy” style. And whatever dreams they harbor, they never will be.
The cleverness in the performances is that they never wholly repel us, but never exactly invite our sympathy and let us root for them either. Older viewers will cringe a little at what they’re doing. Younger ones, facing economically-limited futures, might wonder if they’d have Irina and Nimj’s nerve.
Rating: unrated, sex, alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Saleh Bakri, Iva Gocheva
Credits: Scripted and directed by Brad Bischoff. A Gravitas release.
Running time: 1:20