The prevailing optimism tells us that whenever the Hollywood studio system is underserving an audience or an entire genre, indie filmmakers will appear like the cavalry to fill the gaps. If that’s true (and it probably is), it’s fitting that Joshua Caldwell’s Layover was released the same week Warner Bros. announced its next thousand years of DC superhero movies. It’s an antidote to spandex, a movie that won’t set the world on fire that comes at a time when we should be questioning the virtue of movies that set the world on fire.
What it is, is a beautifully mature work from a promising young director that calmly and confidently explores themes like the inevitability of life’s pattern and the unnecessary transformative effect of random experiences. It also does all this while being far less pretentious than that sentence is.
Simone (Nathalie Fay) lands in Los Angeles after flying from Paris, on her way to Indonesia to see a boyfriend who she’s convinced will be proposing at the baggage carousel. Her connecting flight is delayed, the airline posts her up in a hotel for the evening, and her night blossoms when she meets up with her old friend, Juliette (Bella Dayne). They head out into the wilderness of the city, and Simone crosses tire treads with a mysterious motorcyclist (Karl E. Landler).
To be clear, this is a movie where adults talk to other adults without a single explosion in sight. At the same time, it’s in no way soap operatic. No plates smashing against walls, no overwrought screaming matches, no paternity tests. It’s merely a snapshot of one woman’s final night before walking into the next phase of her life.
That next phase, marriage is a spectre on the horizon for the film. It’s also ever-present. Juliette is unhappily married to a hairdo; they’ve just had a baby, but infidelity seems to be their preferred method of rebalancing. When she drags Simone out to the club, it’s as psychotherapy, and when they meet up with her (presumably) single friends, the mirror effect speaks volumes. That Simone randomly discovers a handsome man willing to give her a ride and some perspective is another way of flirting with all of us rom-com savvy types.
Like all floaty concepts, it would be a dull slog through the median without the shrewd personnel involved here. There’s a developed comfort in the way each actor handles his or her role. These figures are all 80–90% happy, which is a difficult needle to thread. Fay, in particular, carries the story on her shoulder whether she’s steely in isolation or glowing in conversation. She’s an excellent, curious heart for this project – gorgeous with gravitas.
With its topicality and shot design (courtesy of Caldwell and DP William Wolffe), it’s an obvious heir to Linklaterian talkies and Aspirin-infused dramas like Roger Dodger. The cinematography offers midnight in Los Angeles through glassy eyed purity. It’s like ordering a favorite dish at a restaurant you visit once or twice a year. Delightful without blowing your taste buds back. It’s convincing work without being ostentatious, more impressive if you remind yourself that they made these visuals with .008% the budget of Gone Girl. Even without that context, though, Layover’s scenes are dreamy and alluring, offering a cinematic bolstering to sequences where conversation reigns.
As for the indie rom-com structure (one similar to In Search of a Midnight Kiss), the film bucks several tropes you’d normally find in a story of a woman meeting a handsome stranger just before she commits herself to another, allowing for a humane expedition from club to city streets to house party to hotel lobby. As much as that sounds like an R. Kelly song, each scene plays out like throwing a brick through a window with kid gloves on. Everything simmers and bubbles beneath the surface, a palpable unease that never gets weighed down. It deals with the small, simple, everyday things, treating them with the life and energy they deserve.
If there’s a weak spot, it’s that the mysterious motorcyclist is a working screenwriter who wants to pen the kinds of stories that no one wants to produce. Yes, it’s L.A., and yes, movie people in movies can be a person-to-person pet peeve, but those particular monologues take a highlighter to a sentence that doesn’t need italics or bolding. It imbues the film with a meta element that’s unnecessary. The film intrinsically makes the case for movies that studios don’t care to make all on its own.
And with a budget of $5,000, it’s an antidote to big budget fatigue in more ways than one.
Overall, it’s a wonderful film that lives and breathes because of a carefully tailored script that balances the organically banal and the interestingly dramatic, acting that makes it sing, and cinematography that wraps it all in a captivating package.
The Upside: Pristine visuals; adult situations given their proper due; carefully constructed dialogues; mesmerizing acting
The Downside: A bit slight by design; a meta irritation by way of a screenwriting character
On the Side: Caldwell spoke on Broken Projector, explaining how they made a feature film for 1/3rd the cost of a Ford Focus.