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L.A. Confidante

61st BFI London Film Festival

Gemini (2017)

You don’t often see movies named after a tattoo. It’s even more rare to see a movie about the power dynamics within a female friendship. “Gemini” is about a female friendship up against the truest test: who you call when you need to move a body.

Heather (Zoë Kravitz, all guarded tension) is a movie star who is cracking up. She no longer wants to date Devin (Reeve Carney, oily) or star in Greg’s (Nelson Franklin, charming) movie. All she wants is to hide away with her new girlfriend Tracy (Greta Lee doing as much as possible with a role that deserved a more depth), and because she has Jill (Lola Kirke) as her assistant, she doesn’t even have to do the dirty work to make this possible. But that’s O.K., because while Jill is a great assistant, she is an even better friend. The first part of the movie makes that crystal clear. There is an obvious power dynamic in their relationship, but Jill and Heather really are best friends. More importantly, they trust each other. Heather trusts Jill enough to go into difficult meetings with powerful men and speak on her behalf. And Jill trusts Heather enough to loan her a gun.

But in a frightening turn of events, Heather ends up dead, shot in her own home with Jill’s gun. The police, in the form of John Cho, are carefully investigating this high-profile case, but Jill is the obvious suspect, not just because her fingerprints are on the gun. It’s a testament to how writer-director Aaron Katz sets up the beginning of the film, and of the relaxed repartee between Ms. Kravitz and Ms. Kirke, that we never consider it possible that Jill did it. But there are plenty of people who did want Heather dead. So can Jill figure out who was responsible before she’s arrested herself?

Mr. Katz was a central figure of the mumblecore movement and has preserved that genre’s highlights – naturalistic dialogue, location filming and everyday solutions to problems – even while leaning into the film’s bigger scale. One of Mr. Katz’s previous movies, “Cold Weather,” was also about amateur sleuths trying to help a friend in trouble, but they moved in a world of cheap apartments, borrowed cars and half-empty restaurants. The Hollywood setting allows for plenty of property porn (Heather’s fancy house is styled like a hammam, or a fish tank), but as Jill moves between dive bars, high-end restaurants, hair salons, luxury hotels and laundrettes we get a sense of Los Angeles from top to bottom. While on the run, Jill proves herself to be clever and resourceful; though while it’s cheering to see her stealing someone’s phone charger it’s disappointing neither she nor the film realizes a mobile can be tracked even while it’s switched off. But for every standard moment of Jill creeping quietly through someone else's mansion, there’s something a little fresher. The highlight is one where Jill confronts Greg while he packs for a vacation. As they argue, suddenly his face falls, and he asks her not to make it weird when she sees him get his octopus. There’s a horrible pause when the audience joins Jill in puzzling over what outré horror this could be, and the reveal is the movie’s finest moment.

The film’s sense of tension is real, and built on realistic moments: Heather being unable to stop checking Instagram for posts about herself; the perimeter lights flicking on and off around her house; ever-present paparazzi stalking Heather and Jill wherever they are in the city. Ms. Kravitz does a wonderful job of showing the pressures of being a bird in the modern-day celebrity cage. Everyone in the film, except Tracy, has a financial interest in her, but only Jill puts her humanity before everything else. This, of course, is what she’s paid to do, but Ms. Kirke reveals Jill’s basic decency through subtle body language and clear emotional boundaries. Their friendship is a delight, to them and to us. What’s more, hardly anyone in the movie comes across badly, not even the douchebag ex or the disappointed director. There are no mustache-twirling villains. There’s even a fine scene between Ms. Kirke and Michelle Forbes as Heather’s lawyer, who makes it clear she dislikes Jill personally but admires her professionally. It’s a smart way of raising the stakes.

Cinematographer Andrew Reed shot much of the film under a pale blue light – like the reflection of a television, or an aquarium – which adds to the sense of heightened unreality. The police are clever and not unsympathetic, but Jill is right to be wary. She has to step very carefully to take care of herself. It’s exhausting never to let down your guard, as Heather knew. Even with the guns, and the death, this is not a violent film. Its menace is all from people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which of course is frightening enough.

The very ending, though. Without spoilers: the final scene shows Jill behaving in the opposite fashion to how she is introduced. Jill’s sense of self has shifted, and where there was nothing but sweetness and concern there is now something poisonous and unpleasant. Power has moved in one direction from another, in a way that contradicts a lot of what we have seen before. But the end of the movie doesn’t explore this; instead it goes in a more obvious direction. Mr. Katz is one of the rare directors who leaves you with the sense that his character’s lives continue after the movie ends. But in this case, we could have stood to see a little more.

One final note: I would very much enjoy for Mr. Cho’s detective from this movie to join forces with Hilary Swank’s detective from “Logan Lucky” in a police procedural, or their own movie, a webseries – anything that lets them to stroll around together making withering comments about the disappointing fools surrounding them.


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