Quiet City


In reading about Quiet City online (what little I found—the film is an obscure indie), I’ve seen it claimed that it is boring, was obviously made on a micro-budget, has little in the way of a story—not much actually happens, has mostly mumbling, stammering dialogue, and all told comes across as a quite amateurish effort.

Having now seen Quiet City I can confirm that all of those observations are true.

Yet in spite of all that, I can’t deny that the film has a certain charm. Enough for me to recommend it? I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but of all the films I’ve written about, I’d rank it a lot closer to the middle than the bottom.

Jamie is a 20-something Applebee’s waitress who arrives in Brooklyn from out of town to visit a girlfriend. But there is no sign of her girlfriend, and she is unable to contact her.

She had asked a 20-something guy named Charley for directions to the diner where she is waiting, in vain, for her friend, and while she is there Charley happens by and sees that she is still alone. He joins her, they chat for a while, and ultimately they decide that since she has nowhere else to go, they will hang out with each other.

The next few days while she is in town they hang around his apartment, wander about to see some of the local sights in the neighborhood, meet up with some people from his circle of friends, go to an art show, etc., all while gradually getting to know each other and becoming more comfortable with each other and fond of each other.

Not to give it all away, but it turns out there’s really nothing to give away. You watch the early portion of a film like this, and maybe you think that eventually there will be some shocking crime, Jamie or Charley won’t be at all what they present themselves as, the girlfriend Jamie was supposed to meet will reenter the story in some stunning way, there will be some crazy plot twists, or maybe just Jamie and Charley will fall for each other in a big, dramatic way and it’ll turn into some passionate love story. But no, nothing much happens beyond what I’ve described.

The dialogue and the way the characters interact is quite unlike what you’ll see in the vast majority of movies. I’m torn as to why. Is it because the actors—and screenwriters—were amateurs just kind of fumbling their way through their jobs, resulting in mostly awkwardness, talking over each other, broken-off sentences, hemming and hawing, muttering, and content that often doesn’t go anywhere? Or is it because this is a lot more like real life compared to regular movies, since even movies that attempt to be realistic are only being realistic in a certain conventional movie sense?

I suppose it’s some of each, but I’m inclined to look favorably on Quiet City and say it’s 30% the first and 70% the second. From what I’ve read, a fair amount of the dialogue was ad libbed by the actors, and again, it can come across amateurish and/or very real when you do that, but here it often feels startlingly like you’re watching real people rather than a movie.

Also, there’s considerable overlap between low level actors haltingly trying to ad lib dialogue, and two not particularly extroverted young people who barely know each other self-consciously feeling their way through a conversation. So again, am I watching a bad movie, or an unusually realistic movie?

One of the more striking things about Quiet City, to me, is that there is virtually no sexual tension, at least not that I picked up on. The girl’s really cute too, but the guy is basically the opposite of dynamic. I don’t want to make that sound wholly negative, because in his way he’s actually a very nice fellow, but he’s the epitome of the slope-shouldered, dead-eyed, unthreatening, unexciting, unobjectionable, practically invisible, slacker. (Are there still slackers, or was that a different generation?) All this time he’s alone in his apartment with this hot girl, she’s quite friendly toward him and there’s no indication yet she would be unreceptive, they each take showers while they’re there (albeit at different times, separately), they roam around potentially romantic locales, and yet he never seems to be feeling her out to see what his chances might be. There isn’t even any clear flirting. Maybe a tiny bit from her, though that’s ambiguous, but less or none from him.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, just something foreign to me. Actually I am probably somewhat capable of interacting with an attractive woman like that today—somewhat—but when I was his age I was the usual perpetually horny guy always monitoring where I might stand as far as getting sex from someone I was with that I was attracted to. It wasn’t always some kind of predatory thing, though I’m sure I “thought with my dick” more than I like remembering, but at least it was on my mind and I was focused much of the time on trying to figure out what I could do to end up in bed with a girl like that, even if I didn’t behave in any particularly abominable way.

I could see a lot of women finding his not manifesting sexual interest quite refreshing. Because in a sense it is. These are two people who have a chance to get to know each other in a slow, gradual, comfortable way over the course of a few days together, without that complicating factor of having to think about sex, decide whether to pursue it, decide how receptive to be to any such efforts or how to deftly fend them off, etc.

Sexual tension is “tension” after all—exhilarating in its way with the right person in the right circumstances, but also something it can be a relief not to have to deal with, especially for an attractive woman in a society where attractive women are constantly being perceived in a sexual way.

I mean, I think some women would see him as kind of a zero, but I think others would appreciate his complete lack of aggression. And it may be a generational thing too. Maybe the kind of interaction depicted here is far more common now—given the constant bombardment of politically correct messages and such that present day young people have grown up with—than it was long, long ago when I was that age.

I’m sure there are plenty of horny guys now as always who couldn’t be with someone like her more than five minutes without manifesting an obvious sexual interest, but maybe guys like Charley are now 30% of the 20-something male population instead of 5% or whatever they used to be.

But in spite of the lack of overt flirting, or even “knowing glances” or whatever, I suppose there’s still something vaguely romantic about their situation. And that’s sweet in its way.

At times it’s like they’re each on their best behavior, concerned about the impression they’re making on the other.

One of the comments I read online about the film was along the lines of finding the movie warm and touching, and feeling sorry for anyone who hasn’t had an experience like that of the couple in the film in their life.

Somehow I know, or think I know, just what that person meant. There’s something about this film that hit me that very way. Not that I’ve had experiences all that close to what we see here in its particulars, but in a much broader sense, in their essence, I’ve had multiple experiences that overlapped in certain ways with this, and there can be something subtly wonderful about them.

It’s that excitement of exploring a new person (yes, an attractive member of the opposite sex), feeling that things are mostly going quite smoothly and you’re very gradually becoming closer to each other and more in sync with each other, but it’s all still uncertain and tentative, and it’s happening at a time when you’re young and really not very experienced—not enough to be jaded, certainly—about relationships, when you don’t have a lot of responsibilities, commitments, or worries, but you do have the time to just sort of spontaneously do one mundane thing or another together at a relaxed and comfortable pace, letting things develop naturally. It’s the kind of situation you probably appreciate a lot more when you’re older and you discover that such things rarely if ever happen to you anymore, and you look back wistfully on what seemed pretty ordinary then but you realize now was anything but.

What happens with Jamie and Charley after the movie ends? Do they end up boyfriend and girlfriend? Do they maintain a close but platonic friendship? Are they never more than on the fringes of each other’s lives? Do they never see each other again?

I don’t know, but I’ll bet they look back on this brief time together as something precious, even if they can’t articulate precisely why.

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