Another independent rom com with a scrambled timeline, Peter and Vandy fitfully depicts highlights of the titular characters’ two-year courtship like an iTunes playlist to be mercilessly shuffled. Unlike other recent uses of the technique, however, the film’s deft use of montage achieves an uncommonly rhythmic simulation of the mental experience of young adult romance; smartly eschewing the tight, scene-by-scene time-jumping of (500) Days of Summer, Peter and Vandy opts for a looser, consciousness-like stream of crosscuts that juxtapose memories of subtly tender lovers’ glances against bitterly histrionic arguments. But as intuitive and daring as the editing is, the nonlinear structure seems too often like nervous subterfuge; arrange the film’s events in proper sequence and they’d appear dismally conventional, if not like poor attempts at mainstream cuteness. These include by now yawn-inducing plot turns—there’s one messy breakup, one hesitant reconciliation, and a slew of quotidian spats punctuated by trips to various ethnic takeout joints—without anything aside from the temporal gimmick to beef up the scrawny story.
As the couple in question, Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler inhabit the shallow-but-curious mind space of modern professional youths convincingly; Weixler’s performance is especially rewarding of close observation, impressively suggesting with an abrupt facial display of nascent confidence that she’s exploring pieces of the woman she’ll soon become. But she can only add so much nuance to a script wherein the dialectic centerpiece is a shallow quarrel over the proper assembly of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It should be refreshing that for once such puerile bickering doesn’t harbor some ham-fisted metaphor (and admittedly, that the film attempts to examine the unexpected tedium of spontaneous domestic relationships is somewhat admirable, if hardly inventive), but the insistence throughout on cloyingly trivial incompatibilities (like desiring sex or company at different times) ultimately renders the characters superficial. By the happy slow-motion ending they’re nearly subhuman—ciphers manipulating one another in and out of affection for the purpose of drama.
Peter and Vandy implements the time-shuffling love story with more poetic technical aplomb than any other film this year, but its flaws inadvertently fashion a cogent argument against the formula as well. If this is the best that out-of-order indie romances can get, why bother with them?