April 15, 2013

I Dare You Not To Fall In Love With PETER AND VANDY

"I didn't say it tasted like vagina.  I said, 'This pad thai tastes like poon thai.'"

I love non-linear stories.

Peter And Vandy shows the history of a relationship between two twenty-somethings, but with the scenes all jumbled and out of order.  We'll jump from the couple living together, to the day they first met, to after they've broken up (not a spoiler) and everything in between.  The unique structure actually creates a fun kind of puzzle, as it forces you to watch the movie closely in order to pick up context cues within the scenes in order to figure out what part of their relationship you're seeing and where it falls relative to what you've already witnessed.  It might sound confusing but it's all done with a very light touch and writer/director Jay DiPietro does a great job of playfully toying with the audience's expectations; often times you're sure that you're watching a scene from the beginning of their relationship, only to find out later that you've actually been watching something from much later.

My interest in this movie was driven entirely by the cast.  I'm a big fan of Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter.  He popped up in small roles in some big movies before hitting a stretch of cool indie films and eventually finding greater success on TV with shows like The Event and Parenthood.  Jess Weixler made a big splash as the star of Teeth (about a girl with a lethal vagina) but her career never really took off.  But when I first saw the trailer for Peter And Vandy I was working for her agency, so I was very familiar with her name and headshot.  I admit to being something of a hopeless romantic and I'll always take a good indie love story over whatever dreck gets released on Valentine's Day each year.  So I filed this one away as something I'd probably enjoy watching and when it showed up on Netflix Instant I threw it into my queue and more or less forgot about it.

Friday night I was heading up to Vermont after work to visit a friend for the night, so I knew I had a limited viewing window.  As I scanned my Netflix queue for something on the shorter side, Peter and Vandy caught my eye.  In truth, the previous night's "split pea soup" fight with Jamie had yet to really be resolved, so you could say that I was of a mind to see something sweet and romantic, where two people may bicker and argue but they still love each other despite all that drama.  It totally delivered.

What struck me most was the honesty in the portrayal of their relationship.  The non-linear structure allows DePietro to juxtapose moments from different phases of their time together to show how memories can evolve over time.  For example, while trying to decide on a take out restaurant, Vandy points out that Peter once said that the pad thai at a particular Vietnamese restaurant "tastes like vagina."  Her delivery is very terse and dismissive, calling out the immaturity of his joke (in the pull quote above) because she's annoyed at his inability to choose a restaurant.  A few minutes later we see them actually eating there for the first time and discover that not only were they both laughing at the joke, but Vandy was actually the first to coin the term "poon thai."  But when you're mad at your significant other, anything can turn into cannon fodder - even a happy memory or a shared inside joke.  When you've had a bad day, all of a sudden something simple like the way the other person makes a peanut butter sandwich suddenly takes on monumental importance and causes you to let loose unholy hell on the person you love.  DePietro also demonstrates that the simplest acts, like how you carry the groceries, can speak volumes about the state of a relationship.  It would be easy for the audience to lose an emotional connection when the characters' emotional states shift so abruptly from one sequence to the next, but each scene is given plenty of room to breathe and the pacing is wonderful.  Instead of watching their relationship build up over time, there's a lovely ebb and flow to the proceedings that feels true to the spirit of most relationships.

Peter and Vandy is a lovely story anchored by two strong lead performances.  Tracie Thoms and Jesse L. Martin are great as another couple who hilariously snipe at each other, while the always funny Zack Orth scores some laughs in a few scenes as Vandy's brother.  For the most part though, it's all about Ritter and Weixler and the pair has a really sweet chemistry together.  It's a small story, but sharply crafted by DePietro and deftly edited by Geoffrey Richman; this is the kind of movie that definitely rewards repeat viewings.

I say embrace your romantic side tonight.  Grab your special someone, pick up a bottle of wine and fire up the Netflix.  As far as charming date flicks go, this overlooked gem hits all the right notes.

Title: Peter And Vandy
Director: Jay DePietro
Starring: Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Jesse L. Martin, Tracie Thoms, Zak Orth
Year Of Release: 2009
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (Laptop)

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