I Play With The Phrase Each Other

I Play With The Phrase Each Other


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I Play With The Phrase Each Other - if the title doesn't make a seasoned critic shudder, the premise - that it's the first film to be composed entirely of phone calls - surely will. Both suggest a project desperate to impress, something that is marketing pitch first and story second. As it happens, the phone call aspect is surprisingly well handled and succeeds in contributing something at an artistic level. That title, however, foreshadows serious problems.

Jake (Will Hand) is a young man adrift, a man who difficult background only gradually emerges through calls from his mother to which he hesitates to respond. He's persuaded to go to the city to start a new life. His friend Sean (director Jay Alvarez) says it's easy to make money there. Sean lives by scamming Craigslist users. He obsesses over women who've lost interest in him. The women, meanwhile, drift through dead end jobs and endure the sexual violence endemic in poor neighbourhoods, but seem equally reluctant to leave the city, as if it has sapped their power to imagine any other way of life.

This is a story in which everyone is remote from everyone else. It's not just the phones that do it, nor the shots of Jake seated between blank-faced, drug using flatmates in the apartment that has become a squat. It's not just the conversations about sex that pit men against women, nor the disconnect in characters who habitually lie yet believe everything they're told. It's something more innate. Ray Callaway's noirish cinematography, heavily focused on close-ups, separates the individual characters from their surroundings. The tone he creates proves a far more effective way of exploring isolation and ennui in the communication age than the many more direct attempts we've seen in recent years.

The inevitable difficulty is that isolation and ennui don't really lend themselves to a gripping narrative and Alvarez lacks the skill as a writer to overcome the problem. The film is far too long either for its story or for what it has to say. What's more, the dialogue is painful. Alvarez looks uncannily like a young Paul Darrow, which makes his lack of genuine wit all the more noticeable. At first it's unclear if Sean's heavily affected, sesquipedalian ramblings are deliberately taking the piss, or if Alvarez as a writer is gently mocking a character whose speech creates its own barrier to communication, but as the story develops neither seems likely. Great poets are frantically name-checked as if by way of justification when the overall effect has more in common with that of Douglas Adams' Vogons. Clunky language used by other characters reinforces the impression that irony is absent here.

Given this language issue, the film is sometimes inadvertently comic but otherwise far too heavy for its own good - not weighty, just stodgy. Still, the overall sense is of a young filmmaker with no small measure of talent who has simply bitten off more than he can chew. Given time, he may deliver something interesting. I Play With The Phrase Each Other is not that film, but if you can sit through it without choking or falling asleep, you may still find something to admire.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2013
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Four isolated residents of the urban jungle communicate through phone conversations.

Director: Jay Alvarez

Writer: Jay Alvarez

Starring: Jay Alvarez, Will Hand, Megan Kopp, Alexander Fraser

Year: 2013

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US


Raindance 2013

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