Film Review: THE PLAGIARISTS (2019) DIR. PETER PARLOW
Watching this film requires a certain amount of detachment, as in not getting too judgmental too early on. Everything is definitely not as it appears to be. Its “indie” credentials are established right from the start, with natural lighting, poor image quality and hand-held camerawork. Anna (Lucy Kaminsky) and Tyler (Eamon Monaghan), a 20-something couple find themselves broken down on the side of a lonely country road in upstate New York on a cold and snowy winter day. They are on their way back to the city after visiting their friend Allison, a few miles up the road. As they fuss and fume about what to do, an older black man appears and graciously offers to help. His name is Clip (Michael “Clip” Payne of Parliament-Funkadelic) and he lives nearby. He offers to push the car down the hill to his house so they can get warm and figure out what to do. Initially hesitant to trust the man, the cold and need for a bathroom overrule their reluctance. Their unease is abated when Clip convincingly claims to know Allison.
Once inside Clip’s home, the fact that there is a young blond boy, Charlie, glued to an ipad in a loft area who never speaks or joins them. There is no explanation and his presence is barely alluded to as these two are phenomenally self-involved in their particular brand of coupledom. Tyler is a pretentious commercial cinematographer who shoots advertising campaigns but aspires to be an auteur-filmmaker. Unfortunately, he is financially strapped and is an irritatingly tight-fisted, high-strung, opinionated loud mouth. Anna, is introspective, insecure, and pragmatic about Tyler’s manic behavior. She has almost finished a memoir/novel and is tortured by doubt and anxiety about its fate. We are exposed to the dynamics of their relationship as they bicker trying to organize car repair options. Realizing they will have to stay overnight, they cancel Monday work plans, make dinner while drinking lots of wine, get drunk and get to know Clip, a fascinating, articulate and slightly unknowable enigma of a man.
When Tyler discovers a storage room with a trove of old professional video and audio equipment he is lost like a kid in a toy shop. Clip claims to have no interest in it and offers it to Tyler. There follows a lot of unrelated video footage of the storage room, the old equipment and the surrounding dark woods. One can only assume that it is Tyler playing with the equipment. Altogether disjointed, confusing and apparently meaningless. (But maybe not). Meanwhile Anna has opened up to Clip about her struggles and fears about her writing. Clip, in turn, tells her something of his life. And here is where it gets strange. Clip begins to speak in a long monologue of such eloquence and expressive prose that Anna is overwhelmed and moved by the poetry and beauty of his words and his melodic voice. That whole scene is totally out of context with all that has gone before it. Fade to black. A typical indie device.
Morning with hangovers finds Anna and Tyler leaving Clip to head home with fond, yet confused thoughts about what has just transpired. Anna has been affected. Tyler, less so.
Leap forward six months to Summer with Anna and Tyler on their way back to visit Allison (Emily Davis). Anna is reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s, My Struggle. She is thoroughly engrossed until she becomes quite agitated. As she reads aloud to Tyler the passage which contains the exact words spoken by Clip as if they were his own, she gets more and more upset. Tyler, of course, does not get what the big deal is or why she is so bothered. But that is just who he is. Nonetheless Anna feels betrayed. When they finally arrive at Allison’s and Anna tells her about the same episode, Allison also fails to grasp why it seems so upsetting to Anna. By now Anna has finished her book and is feeling unsettled and she and Tyler seem constantly at odds.
There is a ton of indie mumblecore in this film. There follows a whole lot of seemingly meaningless nature footage, which looks as if it is being shot by Tyler on the old video equipment. Establishing its authenticity? Tyler’s new film? Then there is the voiceover – voiced by Allison, suddenly eloquent and thoughtful, encouraging Anna out of her discouragement and doubt about her abilities, revealing some truths about Tyler. This is as out of character as Clip reading from Knausgaard. The footage goes all the way back to the basement of Clip’s house. Why?? Allison is now revealing deep insightful thoughts, not previously evident. Where did this come from? The truth about Clip, the young blond boy, the midnight visitor, the source of the video equipment. There are no answers. No clues.
Apparently it is a spoof of indie films, while employing the same signifiers of authenticity as actual indie films, and it was shot using that same old equipment and old film stock. I’m not sure that the point is clearly made. And I think it could have been more amusing, with a little more tongue in cheek. Still the acting was convincing, especially Lucy Kaminsky and Clip. And the story was not without interest. Let’s just say it is a small indie film.