Nobody Walks kicks off with Olivia Thirlby’s Martine entering Los Angeles like a low-pressure front, the sustained wreck of her personal life bound to cause ripples somewhere. Fleeing a relationship that ended in a lawsuit, she’s barely off the plane before she’s embroiled with some guy who treats her recklessness as license to shove his hand down her pants. She demurs, but still gets a free ride to her destination, where she’ll spend the next few days wreaking all sorts of emotional havoc, a function that’s attributed as much to her own disarray as the inability of any of the film’s characters to communicate their inner turmoil or read the signals given off by others.
Seeking help finishing up the audio on a short-form art film, Martine finds herself in the expansive home of a successful sound technician, Peter (John Krasinski), and his therapist wife, Julie (Rosemarie Dewitt), a close friend of Martine’s college mentor. The two women never get the chance to bond, but Martine and Peter’s close-quarters relationship (they toil away in his sound-proof studio) inevitably leads to romantic sparks, a situation whose narrative significance is diminished by the fact that Martine ends up involved with most of the men she brushes up against.
This is never presented as an indictment of the character, nor is she the only one plagued by a clear case of sexual confusion. Peter’s infidelity is matched by Julie’s growing tension with a flirtatious patient, while her teenage daughter, Kolt (India Ennenga), is torn between an unattainable love and an unexciting prospective boyfriend. Everyone is at a transition point, setting the stage for a watery pool-house sex farce that’s too scattered to strike any immediate emotional chord, too self-serious to chase after laughs. The film’s greatest achievement is probably its strictly balanced view of the war between the sexes, which is presented as one of mutual attrition, defined by befuddled impulses and miscommunication rather than direct malice on either side.
As Julie pragmatically explains to her daughter, you don’t necessarily find the right person, just the right time to settle down. This fits in with the film’s refreshingly candid, illusion-free viewpoint on the personal concessions that accompany maturity; it does for middlebrow indie cinema what co-writer Lena Dunham’s Girls does for the modern coming-of-age story, sanding off the quixotic edges while holding onto a kernel of romance about the mechanics of love and lust. These characters may be compared visually to the scorpions in Martine’s harshly monochromatic film, but there’s a real sense of care taken in depicting their fragility, which leaves them helpless in the face of their own confused desires.
The downside of this balanced portrayal is that the whole thing comes out feeling kind of featureless, beaten flat by its own sense of fairness. One unnecessarily explosive bit of dramatic misogyny acts as a stand-in for a climax, yet even this moment gets shoved off on a makeshift villain. Having a cast full of good guys doesn’t have to stifle conflict, but it does so here, because Nobody Walks isn’t up to the task of nudging its storylines out of intensely familiar ruts. Perhaps the biggest failure here is that we get so little sense of Martine, a character who appears in nearly every scene. Her circumstances and place in the world may have been clarified, but the woman inside remains an unexplored mystery.