If “18 1/2” have been taken to a studio and pitched to a roomful of people with the flexibility to provide a movie with an inexperienced mild, their first query would rightly be, “Who is the audience for this?” The reply, judging from the completed product, is “the people involved in making it, and whoever else happens to see it and like it.” It simply so occurs that quite a lot of fantastic, small motion pictures that might solely be made on the outermost edges of the system match that description. This riff on what occurred to the notorious hole in Richard Nixon’s White Home tapes is one such film—which, in fact, isn’t the identical factor as saying it is assured to please; fairly the other. A part of the movie’s specialness lies in the truth that there appears to be little rhyme or motive to the alternatives it makes, or when it decides to make them.
Directed by veteran impartial filmmaker Dan Mirvish (“Bernard and Huey”) and written by Daniel Moya, from a narrative by each, this can be a slight and peculiar movie set within the Watergate period. It clocks in at just below 90 minutes, and morphs out and in of a number of genres without committing to any of them. It would not have an imaginative and prescient, it has a vibe. The movie isn’t a romance, although it retains threatening to go in that course; neither is it a political satire or a conspiracy thriller, though it has hint components of these genres as effectively (the closeups of recording tools and surveillance-style photographs of individuals being noticed from a discreet distance evoke “All the President’s Men,” “Blow Out,” and different post-Watergate thrillers). And it is a movie that sticks within your thoughts after you have watched it. Each selection is made with confidence, however from an intuitive place, like choices made by a lucid dreamer.
Willa Fitzgerald stars as Connie, a transcriptionist who stumbles throughout a recording of Nixon (voiced by Bruce Campbell) and aides H.L. Haldeman (Jon Cryer) and Alexander Haig (Ted Raimi) listening to the part of the tape that they subsequently determine to erase. Apparently, they made the error of holding this non-public listening occasion in a room the place, unbeknownst to them, each dialog is robotically recorded—which is how Connie ended up listening to the proceedings and deciding to take them to a New York Occasions reporter named Paul (John Magaro).
Paul is uninterested in consuming the Washington Submit’s reportorial mud on the Watergate beat. He craves his personal scoop. He desires to hearken to the tape himself. Connie understandably will not enable it to be taken from her possession. So they comply with going to the close by Silver Springs Motel, the place they’ll fake to be a married couple, ebook themselves a room, and play the recording in order that Paul can take notes. Problems comply with issues. Connie’s reel-to-reel participant will not work, so they wander across the place asking if anyone else has a working reel-to-reel participant (even in 1974, this can be a tall order; the world had moved on to such high-tech units as cassette and 8-Observe gamers).
They find themselves pretending to be newlyweds and accepting a dinner invitation from an alarmingly ahead married couple, Samuel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and Lena (Catherine Curtin), who are staying in one other room at the motel and, as luck would have it, personal a reel-to-reel participant upon which they have been replaying the identical bossa nova album for years.
Samuel and Lena seize the movie’s oddball power in microcosm. The moment they seem onscreen, they set off all types of alarms, however, it’s onerous to know why different that they are exuberant and eccentric. Curtis-Corridor and Curtin, each veteran character actor, get to point out outsides of their expertise that we have by no means seen. Samuel is a World Conflict II veteran and complicated world traveler who wears a knotted plaid ascot and can begin dancing sinuously by himself with no provocation, arms, and hips swiveling, whereas Lena is Frenchwoman who talks and talks, and whose riffs are generally so nonsensical that they verge on beat poetry.
They met in occupied France. “What did you do during the war?” Connie asks Samuel over dinner. “We won,” he replies. The sentence lands with sinister weight as a result of Samuel saying it so matter-of-factly, as if it requires no elaboration, regardless that it isn’t truly a solution. When Lena lets Connie and Paul into their suite, she would not simply open the door, she throws it open in a bizarre approach that is as seemingly unmotivated as every little thing else she does. (When she launches into a protracted riff throughout dinner, the film jump-cuts between completely different takes of the actress performing the scene. There’s one temporary shot the place Curtin is talking right into a baguette as if it is a microphone.)
One other ace supporting participant, Richard Kind, has a subtler but in some way equally unsettling function because of the motel proprietor, who’s a fountain of too much information. Delivering a message to Connie and Paul’s entrance door, he apologizes for his handwriting: “I have a slight tremble in my hand. I’ve had it since I was a kid. It’s mercury poisoning. I used to suck on the thermometer.”
What’s his deal? What’s Samuel and Lena’s deal? What about Connie and Paul? Have they got a deal? Why do all of those characters appear so untrustworthy? They’re only a bunch of eccentrics, proper? Is the movie a joke of some sort? Generally, it appears to be—particularly after we’re listening to the tape of the Watergate tape, and the conspirators are yammering nonsense traces like, “Damn Howard Hughes. Damn him and his sandwiches!” However, then it’s going to flip sinister and upsetting, whereas nonetheless not solely committing to creating a critical or deep assertion on something, and count on us to reconcile what it was and what it became—and that is the purpose the place it’s going to return to fooling around once more.
Mirvish, who cofounded the Slamdance Movie Competition, was mentored by the influential director Robert Altman. This function is his best-directed work and likewise his most Altman-like, with its creamy lighting and overlapping dialogue and long takes, and fluid, generally arbitrary-seeming zooming in the direction of and away from the actors. Mirvish’s manufacturing accomplice, longtime cinematographer, and cameraman Dana Altman is Robert Altman’s grandson. He had his first credit score as a digital camera assistant on “Nashville” at age 15. Among the compositions evoke that movie in addition to Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” and “The Long Goodbye.”
However for probably the most half, the film has the sensation of a type of small indie movie—normally however not all the time primarily based on a play—that Altman did within the Eighties, after he’d had a string of flops and could not get studio funding anymore and determined to have enjoyable messing together with his signature model, in options comparable to “Streamers” and “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” and “Secret Honor” (about Richard Nixon on the eve of resignation) and the HBO sequence “Tanner ’88.”
All this backstory and comparability is of curiosity to a slender slice of the movie-watching inhabitants, admittedly—however in equity, so is the movie, a personal art-house joke that does its personal factor and would not appear to care in case you approve of it, or prefer it, or watch it. What’s it as much as, moreover doing what it pleases? Laborious to say. However, those that declare it pointless need to be ready to eat their phrases at some future date, as some detractors of Altman’s supposedly minor Eighties movies did as soon as they took the difficulty to consider what the factor was, as an alternative of fixating on what it wasn’t.