A loose but focused comic parable about a college student who visits her artist brother in New York for a summer, Gabi on the Roof in July uses its indie limitations to affectionate and purposeful ends. Instead of getting caught up in semi-trendy, late mumblecore trappings, Gabi evokes a New York sentimentalist tradition that mixes the edge of golden era Cassavettes with the nostalgia of Woody Allen—all of which owes eternal debt to the western European New Waves andkir Bergman. With the hipster context of Brooklyn and the moral quandaries of Eric Rohmer, the film posts a momento mori to the end of our faith in parental (and patriarchal) authority and the brand of silver screen realism that embraced the fact it was artificial first and veritably lifelike second. It’s dreamy, premiered at CineQuest20 and (at the time of this review) needs a distributor—if you’re smart and connected you’ll do something about that.
Gabi (co-director/editor Sophia Takal) enters her brother’s walk up while his roommate (Robert White), the film’s nearly silent moral center, is passed out drunk in the bathtub. Within seconds New York is set up as a land of exceptions to the rule, which makes “the rule,” as a principal, something you can only see when you lose focus (which every character does in turns). Gabi’s a forcefully free spirit and both respects her brother’s success in the art world (he’s a painter) and itches to forge a new non-path in performance art. She regularly proclaims art as something that shouldn’t resemble stuffed trophy hanging on walls; instead it should be lived and breathed—“an approach to life.” (Clearly someone dislikes collegiate art theory—she’ll need more time to come up with an original form of rebellion.)
Unlike his sister Gabi, Sam (played by co-writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine) is more interested in working and succeeding with the system, as is his lover Madeline (a stunning Brooke Bloom), who parlayed her artistic proclivities into a secure career as an art therapist for kids. When a past love re-enters Sam’s orbit Madeline is reasonably threatened, particularly as the two women can’t be more different. Making occasional reference to Sam and Gabi’s recently broken home (broken due to their father’s infidelity), Sam teeters on the edge of a broken engagement and Gabi enters into a badly chosen dalliance with a lothario. Both are the worse for it. At the end of it all, Sam and Gabi escape their soiled relationships and find solace in their brother/sister bond. In the process they establish their own moral authorities.
The world of Gabi is deeply realized, surprising and full of energy. The script apparently followed development phases not unlike a Mike Leigh film: after a scenario was organized there was character building and improvised tête-à-tête between cast/crew. What emerges has the vitality of a shared vision. Relevant then that Gabi’s interest in transformation revolves around relationships and the quagmire of choice (the choice to be loyal, the choice to follow well worn paths, the choice to betray or neglect, etc.). The film’s characters aren’t babies but their relationships are building them and not the other way around.
As Gabi’s influences are far richer than the stuff of tired film school juvenilia the resultant universe is manned by creatures who know what emotionally stranded 20-somethings look like—and they know that’s not who they intend to be. They’re 20-30 for sure, and in some cases they’re stuck, but these guys kinda make you love all that mess of recognition, all that affection and aggravation, all that hurtful selfishness, all over again.
Cast: Sophia Takal, Lawrence Michael Levine, Brooke Bloom, Robert White, Louis Cancelmi, Amy Seimetz, and Kate Lyn Scheil
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal
Screenwriters: Kate Kirtz and Lawrence Michael Levine
Producers: Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal and Kathrine Fairfax Wright
Running time: 99 min.
Release date: Unset