In Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town, writer-director Christian Papierniak renders a vivid world of drunks and schemers who live marginally on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Many films and books concerned with alcoholism overemphasize the debauchery of the addiction, subsequently failing to capture how alcoholics rationalize their destructiveness, but Papierniak understands the insidious casualness of having beer with breakfast or regarding a blackout as a quasi-comic inconvenience. Even more astutely, the filmmaker illustrates how drunks forge their own micro communities, which offer support and comfort that’s as affirming as the booze.
Izzy (Mackenzie Davis) wakes up in an unknown apartment. Her body language allows us to understand that she’s done this before, as Davis doesn’t overtly telegraph the pain of what would be a titanic hangover. The actress also slyly underplays Izzy’s remorse, which is but another part of the alcoholic’s operational status quo. As Sam Peckinpah once implied, drunks have a different relationship with hangovers than other people, regarding them as a reliable element of life that justifies the next drink—the almighty “hair of the dog” that kick-starts the body out of withdrawal. As Izzy surveys the place and puts on her clothes, we feel her anticipating that first drink, which indeed comes soon. Her clothes also reveal her to work in catering and are caked in what is later amusingly and evocatively categorized as probably both blood and wine. She awakens her partner from the night before, George (Lakeith Stanfield), a sensitive and erudite helicopter pilot who would probably see Izzy again, though she’s plainly distracted with an early-life crisis.
Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town bears a passing resemblance to other recent dark comedies about women sent into tailspins, like Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette and Max Winkler’s Flower, which were all probably inspired to various degrees by Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s collaborations. This film isn’t up to the blisteringly funny standard of Bachelorette, but it surpasses most of the other hallmarks of the subgenre. Papierniak manages to get a tricky tonal balance more or less right, capturing the false sense of superiority that Izzy projects over her environment without allowing the film itself to revel in said superiority. As in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, we’re encouraged here to feel the pain that the protagonist endures as well as inflicts.
The film’s most significant pleasures spring from the oddballs whom Izzy runs into while attempting to crash her ex-boyfriend’s engagement party. Izzy’s bank account is overdrawn and her car is being held hostage by a shifty mechanic, Dick (Brandon T. Jackson), who offers her a raw egg and a beer in lieu of actual repairs. For people broke and living on society’s fringes, every common task is a Herculean test of will, and so it takes Izzy all day to get the fuck across town, at one point even utilizing a scooter that’s built for a child.
Izzy runs over to see Walt (Haley Joel Osment), a portly young man in a red bathrobe who appears to be some sort of shut-in who pays her to perform random tasks. Izzy asks Walt for cab fare, and their negotiation is the comic and dramatic highlight of Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town. Osment gives Walt a shaggy vulnerability that’s also poignant, tangy, and sleazy—and the actor’s slowness is a beautiful counterpoint to Davis’s swift and frenetic rhythms. Walt pays Izzy to give a romantic speech on his behalf to the woman passed out drunk in his living room, Agatha (Alia Shawkat), and Izzy speaks to Agatha as if the latter is her ex-boyfriend. In this sequence, farce merges with tragedy, forging an empathetic satire of narcissism. Another of the film’s highlights is Izzy’s tender and heartbreaking duet with another shut-in, Mary, who’s played by Annie Potts with extraordinary tact and delicacy.
Eventually, though, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town falls back on the sort of coming-of-age clichés that are the bane of most American films. Papierniak uses a road-trip template as a frame to hold together scenes that are essentially self-contained shorts, and this device compromises the film’s rich casualness. We don’t need to see Izzy learn a predictable climactic lesson and we don’t need the ostentatiously stylized chapter headings and dream sequences. Nor do we need the tarty and unconvincing melodrama of Izzy’s backstory with her sister, Virginia, who’s played by Carrie Coon in what might be the actress’s first obvious performance. More generally, we don’t need three acts, which provide an unspecific sense of momentum that doesn’t agree with a character like Izzy. These tropes lend blandly assuring shape to lives that Papierniak initially, bracingly understands to be shapeless.