If your idea of a good party involves a multicultural group of self-important young professionals drunk on New York City affectation and speaking seriously about building codes, Ted Williams, and baseball (it’s rigid, structured, and transcendental), then Almost In Love is for you. Structured in two presumably uninterrupted 40-minute takes, one at a rooftop in Staten Island, the other at a house in the Hamptons, the film focuses on Sasha (Alex Karpovsky), the obnoxious host of these obnoxious parties, in his attempt to declare his love for Mia (Marjan Neshat), who’s been seeing his friend, Kyle (Gary Wilmes), and articulate his cosmopolitan awesomeness to everyone around him.
Almost In Love spoils the charm of its concept in the way it confuses the wish to be a Woody Allen-Julie Delpy lovechild with a cramping formalism that borders the theatrical. We never buy the pseudo-spontaneity of its characters, or the supposed off-the-cuff dialogue, as it all feels very rehearsed, fake, and stunted. Director Sam Neave could have taken advantage of this and explored a more unforgiving approach for his camera—one that could caustically undress the characters off of their grotesquely affected cool, their contrived quirkiness, and taken-for-granted privilege (they’re the kind of people who claim to be writing books and are always coming back from Rome). Instead, he asks us to believe and care for Sasha’s sappy emotional drama.
Yet the passive-aggressive manners of cosmopolitan denizens don’t lend themselves to very gripping drama, even when the characters try to slip into full-blown (verbally) aggressive territory. Neave seems only marginally aware of what’s actually most appealing about the characters: that the dexterity with which they perform New York cosmopolitanism looks clownish. He succeeds in immersing us in this party atmosphere through the non-traditional cut-free strategy, but then addresses the viewer with the most clichéd love-triangle storylines and sentimental demands. Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark works so well because it leaves no space for buzz-kill character nonsense as the boldness of its form engrosses us. Its framework is enough to seduce and to astonish us. It knows it’s a different kind of ride; it’s the surveying of a space, the materialization of a mood, a three-dimensional phantasm, a theme park even. Almost In Love manages to transport us to the place it creates in an interesting, if not similar, way. But it never figures out how to fill out that space with something as appealing as its conceptual crust.