SXSW 2017 – Gemini (2017)
The hardest thing to do when filming in Los Angeles is to make the city come to life. It’s featured so regularly in backdrops it begins to feel stale very quickly. There’re no such problems in Gemini, though the life Aaron Katz breathes into LA is a million miles away from the sunny, anything is possible world of La La Land and other celebratory efforts.
Katz opens gazing up at palm trees, a striking shot gradually inverted until a regular street comes into view. The world inhabited by Hollywood star Heather (Zoë Kravitz) and her assistant Jill (Lola Kirke) is a cold, chrome plated magazine spread dream. There’s a Mulholland Drive feel to the visuals, albeit without the Lynchian madness.
When it comes down to it, Gemini isn’t selling anything new. This is stylish neo-noir as Kirke’s assistant finds herself wrapped into a murder mystery. Wrapped is probably under-selling it. She’s the chief suspect, hunted across the city by John Cho’s underused Detective and a host of uniform cops.
There’s no rushing to the murder though. Katz takes his time, happy to watch Jill and Heather interact. There’s genuine friendship between them, but it’s clearly uneven. Heather uses her assistant to do the dirty work, which is what she employs her for after all, but they like each other, and there’re occasional hints something more might lie underneath.
Then the world turns upside down and Jill is off trying to solve a brutal murder and get herself off the hook at the same time. The investigating is neatly done, throwing in a number of tense situations as suspects are narrowed down. There’s even a delightful meta-conversation in which a disgruntled filmmaker (Nelson Franklin) runs through possible killers as if he were writing a screenplay.
As Gemini approaches its conclusion, the plot starts to unravel a little. Having been wound ever more tightly, Katz lets it unspool early, robbing the denouement of impact. Following mystery conventions also leads to a few false notes. Jill dashes off into the life of a fugitive awfully quickly, out of keeping with the character established earlier.
What really keeps the film ticking over are the small touches. Katz quietly dissects the private life of his star, adding in turbulent tabloid relationships, hidden romance, and intrusive press without distracting from the main story. Kirke is also an excellent choice to hang the narrative on. Her slightly frazzled but determined performance as she drives Jill on is perfectly weighted, as is the buried ambition she allows glimpses of when she lets her assistant relax.
Gemini sells itself short in the end, but only just, and not before offering oodles of style with a sharp eye and acid tongue.
Director: Aaron Katz
Writer: Aaron Katz
Stars: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho
Runtime: 93 mins