Film Review: ‘Gemini’ Brings Indie Noir to Hollywood

There’s something about Los Angeles and Hollywood in particular that lends itself well to film noir. Depicting the City of Angels as having a potentially seedy underbelly is inherently cinematic. Filmmaker Aaron Katz knows this and has crafted an independent gem with “Gemini.” Powered by a brilliant performance by Lola Kirke, Katz follows the beat of his own drummer in telling this story. Occasionally humorous, consistently quirky, and genuinely filled with tension, there’s a lot to like here. Katz makes a compelling case for Hollywood to come calling, while Kirke cements her status as one of the exciting up and coming actresses in the business.

Watching “Gemini” is akin to listening to a really great acoustic cover of a rock song. A cousin to “Brick” in many ways, Katz has a lighter tone than Rian Johnson did, but the results are similarly compelling. The mood is perfect here. The glitz of Hollywood, especially within the film industry, yet always with a little bit of danger hinted at around each corner. What sets this apart though is the askew view that Katz contributes. It’s not quite a mumblecore noir, but it’s closer to that than “The Maltese Falcon.”

Set in Hollywood, the film is centrally about the relationship between hot Hollywood starlet Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz) and her assistant Jill LeBeau (Kirke). Far more than employer/employee, they have a friendship and reliance on each other that’s rather complex. Jill protects Heather both professionally and personally, to the point where she’s able to hand the latter a handgun when she requests it. Unfortunately, the day after that, Jill wakes up to find Heather has used the weapon in a terrible manner.

Worried that she might be implicated in the crime, Jill begins evading a suspicious detective (John Cho), all the while trying to get to the bottom of what happened, and why. It’s best to go into this one without too many more details, as the discoveries within this nori are fun. That being said, one scene in which Jill and a bitter director (Nelson Franklin) break down how the crime would be if this was actually a movie is incredibly clever.

Folks, Lola Kirke deserves to be a big star. She has an X factor about her that makes anything she does almost hypnotic. Whether it’s comedy (like in “Mistress America“) or drama, her screen presence is palpable. Kirke just as “it” about her. The chemistry she shares with Zoë Kravitz is tremendous too. Kravitz is great here too, though in a smaller part. You believe their relationship, and that’s essential for “Gemini” to succeed.

Kirke demands your attention and is in every scene, but the supporting cast manages to leave their mark as well. Beyond Kravitz, the aforementioned John Cho and Nelson Franklin are solid, if under utilized. Smaller parts are also here for Reeve Carney, Michelle Forbes, Ricki Lake, Greta Lee, Todd Louiso, James Ransone, and more. Kirke is best in show, with Kravitz not far behind, but everyone does their fair share here.

Writer/director (as well as editor) Aaron Katz has long been a solid filmmaker just below the radar, but this is his best work yet. The humor he brought to something like “Land Ho!” still shines through, especially early on, but he never neglects the noir aspects of the movie. Part of that is helped by Keegan DeWitt‘s tremendous score, for sure. Katz is a strong writer and director, so the help by DeWitt and especially Kirke’s performance only helps flesh this flick out.

All told, “Gemini” is an enjoyable noir that takes a different enough look at the genre to really set itself apart. A slightly padded running time and abrupt conclusion knock it down a peg, but those are small quibbles. Even if the mystery isn’t particularly mysterious to you, there’s still so much to like here. Katz and Kirke put forward memorable work, to say the least. Seek it out and you’ll be rewarded.

“GEMINI” IS DISTRIBUTED BY NEON AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON MARCH 30.

GRADE: (★★★)