There’s a timeless sort of quality to Ryan Piers Williams‘ film X/Y. Normally, that’s a compliment, but here I’m not actually sure that it is. In this case, it just sort of feels like a generic independent drama with a lot of sexually active characters in their 20’s and/or 30’s drifting about. We saw that throughout the 1990’s, as well as the 2000’s, and now in this decade it continues. I generally like this kind of indie, but here the mixture just never becomes fully satisfying. Williams writes, directs, and co-stars in this film, which does at least offer a glimpse at the talent he could one day unleash in a really great effort. As it stands, X/Y is little more than a sophomore feature calling card, but you do wish that the movie had amounted to more. The ingredients are here, including nice turns from Melonie Diaz and America Ferrera (plus Williams as well), but nothing within the flick ever truly soars. There are solid moments and there’s more than a little promise on display, but it just never truly comes together in the sort of way that makes for film worth going out of your way for. X/Y isn’t bad, let me be clear about that, but it’s not on the level of something that I’ll be recommending. I doubt many of you would hate it, but I also doubt that many of you would be feel strongly about it at all, one way or the other.
The plot basically drifts from one New Yorker to another, going through the motions of following them in their interpersonal and especially sexual exploits. There’s a modern Slacker feel to it, set in the Big Apple, but by no means does that mean it’s on the same level, quality wise. We see screenwriter Mark (Williams) struggle to keep an emotional connection with his girlfriend Sylvia (Ferrera), but that’s just the first chapter in the story. They break up due to infidelity and we then bounce to Sylvia’s single friend Jen (Diaz), before then going on to follow Mark’s friend Jake (Jon Paul Phillips). There’s also a chapter devoted to Sylvia and her co-worker (Common), but things get pretty repetitive in a hurry. There are individual moments that work, but by and large, there’s not a whole lot going on here that we haven’t seen done before, and better. Occasionally creativity breaks out, but it’s short lived. Mostly, you get the point of it all about halfway through, and just watch the rest play out.
For me, the acting is what helps to save this from being a chore. The entire cast is very good, including filmmaker Ryan Piers Williams, who gives himself a pretty challenging role. He and his real life spouse America Ferrera have a realistic interplay between them as a couple, which boosts their storyline considerably. Williams also has a very good scene with his agent (David Harbour), but that more or less goes nowhere, plot-wise, besides trying to make a point about the film industry. Ferrera in turn gets to hang around with Melonie Diaz, who’s a bit more one note than you’d hope for, but still more than solid. Common isn’t given much to do either, but he’s effective in his sadly too simple role. Jon Paul Phillips didn’t leave too much of an impression, but I mostly blame the writing there for that. The rest of the supporting cast, besides the more or less cameo from Harbour, includes Dree Hemingway, Amber Tamblyn, and others, but this is hardly about them. Besides showcasing Williams, it seeks to highlight Diaz and Ferrera. Give or take the writing for Diaz’s character, it’s a success on the acting front.
As a filmmaker, Ryan Piers Williams is all over the place. Sometimes his writing and directing has a poetic quality to it, while at other times it’s way too on the nose. I think the concept of separating this into chapters could have been an effective choice, but not enough is done with the idea. It’s just there. Behind the camera, it looks like your generic low budget movie set in NYC. There’s periodic use of the location for interesting effect, but again…mostly it’s just an afterthought. I’m really interested to see what Williams does as he continues to grow as a writer and director. X/Y is a step down from his debut The Dry Land, but he’s still got plenty of potential.
If you’re a die hard fan of NYC set indie dramas, this could work for you, but X/Y never really puts in the work to elevate itself to the level of something you must see. The acting is solid and nothing about it is unwatchable…it’s just a film you’ll feel like you’ve definitely seen before. X/Y isn’t something to ignore, but it’s not a movie you need to seek out in any way. Make of that what you will.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!