REVIEW: What’s Up Lovely [2010]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 101 minutes | Release Date: 2010 (USA)
Studio: Kitchen Table Films
Director(s): Gary King
Writer(s): Jenn Dees & Gary King / Gary King (story)

“I don’t deal in fairy tales”

We are all running from something. Love, work, life—our hopes and aspirations lie forever outside our reach while we push forward without going anywhere. For Luci (Jenn Dees), her escape from the clutches of her innermost fears and memories lies in the malaise of an insomniac’s evening sleepwalks through the streets of New York City. Mumbling to herself about never having had the chance to say goodbye, Luci counts to three and freezes time in tenuous snapshots of her eyes’ construction. The city is her Wonderland and her tumble inside results from an event beyond our knowledge as we follow her move towards its truth. This unknown loss haunts every movement by lurking in the shadows, following behind as she stalks a new ‘white rabbit’ each night. Desperate to remove herself from her own life, she steals glimpses into those of others—yearning for monotony devoid of the dull pain the past has instilled in hers.

Like the Caterpillar’s query “Who are you?” in Alice in Wonderland, director Gary King’s title acts as a similar question to Luci. What’s Up Lovely becomes the film’s theme as we begin to wonder how much of what’s seen is real or merely a manifestation of a sleep-deprived woman searching for answers that only exist in the deepest recesses of her mind. With dreams no longer controllable, Luci must keep the lights on in her head and trade the sun for the neon hue illuminating nightly adventures through an eclectic variety of NYC nooks and crannies. A kinetic blur of the camera and the rapid pace of motion interject disorienting interludes of abstract color, the distorted visage of our heroine briefly discerned in the chaos before we’re thrust back onto the streets to watch her continue along an ever-increasing path of resistance. Like slogging through sand or water threatening to force her back, she pushes forward as the events surrounding her devolve into a state of extreme surrealism.

Narrated by Luci as though a documentary portraying her life, we follow along as her collections job proves too mean and her exploits turn from innocuous to strange. Her boss (Ed Avila) tells her she is too passive to do her job one moment and the next she is trailing a stranger and commentating aloud on his/her conversation with friends. It’s as though Luci herself doesn’t know what’s real or dream and only when her victim turns to ask what she’s doing does she snap out of her funk and become the shy, non-confrontational girl we understand her to be. When all is said and done, she would rather run the other way than impose herself onto someone else’s troubles. So if a man like Aidan Kane catches her eye and offers a friendly face to walk her home, she says no thanks. When Ben Holbrook’s victim is caught at the wrong end of a blade begging for help, no voice can escape her lips.

Luci’s nights mimic the tiled depictions on subway walls of Alice; New York’s dark alleys full of eccentric characters and quiet spaces for her mind to conjure new enemies and ghosts from her past transforming into Tulgey Wood. Mirroring the blue-tiled silhouette figures on white, Luci’s final descent finds her in a bar stripped of all color save the blue of her hoodie and alcoholic drinks. The creepy scene resembles Morpheus giving Neo a chance to see behind the curtain—as shot by David Lynch—with Will Triplett’s barkeep mixing the concoctions to decide her future after exiting this nightmare of isolation. He philosophically declares humanity having two choices in life: either we achieve true happiness and watch it disappear forever or buy such joy without knowing how it feels to earn it. We can infer she accomplished the former, but her obvious depression and clamoring for goodbyes only proves her selfish desire for the latter.

Co-written by King and Dees, you can’t help but sense the personal quality to What’s Up Lovely and understand your interpretation will probably differ completely from theirs or anyone else’s. The role of Luci is set-up to be someone we can relate to and superimpose our regrets and sorrow in order to make her journey our own. She spies on an engaged couple with the bitterness of one scorned, runs from demons as though she can shake them, and will never be able to stop until reaching her inevitable cliff with either emptiness or freedom staring back. It’s up to us all to see the delineation and choose to wallow in self-pity and long for what we can no longer have—forgetting we were lucky to have it for the short time we did—or move on and live without letting history get in our way. Those we cannot say goodbye to in reality are always with us in spirit. We only have to hold onto their memory and open our hearts.

Definitely not for everyone, King and Dees have crafted a tale that will hit you emotionally if you let it. More than that, though, it will grab you viscerally with beautiful vignettes of chance encounters and the power of love. Getting dark by the end as Luci descends into her subconscious to become unrecognizable through art, one cannot forget the moments of bliss before it. A random act escorting a stranger’s Indian father in-law (Charles Narasi) to the train station becomes a moment of clarity and literally a key to allowing those around her to become more than empty vessels to mock. A memorable dance sequence amidst graffiti also arrives to capture the essence of the human soul and its fearlessness despite the inevitability of pain. Luci’s journey is one of imagination and nightmare, a pilgrimage we all must take to look our demons in the eye. Necessary to return to who we want to be, it also helps make us more recognizable to the spirits of those we’ve lost forever still watching through the ether.

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