For Australians, “telly” is a regularly used term for the small screen. When Melbournian in New York Naomi (Emily Browning) slips it into a conversation, however, it causes the American son of her mother’s college roommate, Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), to laughingly call for a translator. Other than highlighting her alluring nature to the group of Brooklynites that she comes to know in the movie that follows, Naomi’s nationality isn’t the point of “Golden Exits”, but the bar-side exchange it sparks gets to the heart of Alex Ross Perry’s fifth film.
While its title speaks of departures and its plot is sparked by an arrival, Golden Exits is primarily concerned with the moments that happen in between the two extremes: the incidents, the clashes both quiet and energetic, and the awkwardness, including any that arises when two acquaintances jokingly discover their trivial cultural differences. It’s the type of film where inaction, of which there is plenty, matters as much as action. And, where conversations about nothing, such as the chat about ’80s sitcom Who's the Boss? that causes Emily to use an Australia-specific slang term for television, are just as revealing as serious discussions.
Upsetting the status quo
Emily’s presence, her Aussie twang and her youthful allure, upsets the mundane status quo for two groups. Each is comprised of a struggling couple and a sibling, and each responds to the newcomer in their midst in a similar fashion. With her trip to the US springing from an internship with Nick (Adam Horovitz), who has enlisted her help to archive his deceased father-in-law’s materials, unmistakable tension arises as they work closely together. His wife (Chloë Sevigny) feels threatened, and her sister (Mary-Louise Parker) watches on. Then, with the aforementioned Buddy, Emily reaches out looking for a friend yet proves interested in more, while his wife (Analeigh Tipton) worries, and her sister (Lily Rabe) remains unhappy.
Though given the slightest of twists due to the feature’s antipodean link, it’s familiar territory for a filmmaker who routinely makes movies about malaise and inertia of the interpersonal and emotional kind. 2009’s Impolex and its study of frustration, 2011’s brother-sister bonding comedy The Color Wheel, 2014’s relationship-focused Listen Up Philip, and 2015’s psychological drama Queen of Earth have all traversed the same terrain, contemplating the minutiae of relating to others with an exacting eye for the things usual left alone in movies, but all-too-often bubbling to the surface in reality.
Perry also returns to a recognisable approach, enjoying honing in on character in both a narrative and visual sense once more. Indeed, story-wise, Golden Exits relies upon moments so ordinary that they barely stand out until given the benefit of hindsight. In terms of aesthetics, the film inches deeper and closer to both look at the frustrated expressions on everyone’s faces and wait patiently for their trains of thought to pass in any given scene. Coupled with strong but relatable performances, the movie that eventuates does something its mention of “telly” signposts: it makes even the clumsiest encounters, of which there’s many, seem naturalistic.