In Los Angeles, brunch is something of a phenomenon, with long lines piling up around any place that offers waffles and mimosas as a specialty on weekends, yes, but also weekdays in a city where there are so many people who don’t have 9 to 5 jobs. You don’t typically see families in these lines, but orphans – the popularity of this particular meal likely derived from the fact that in a city that few seem to grow up in, a plate of pancakes feels like home, even if it’s $20 for the privilege. And in that seeming anonymity in line – there’s a good chance you’re connected to the person in front of you on Facebook without having met them in person – you’ll occasionally hear a juicy conversations that often involve random hookups, could include casual drug use and usually climax with a burst of tears, either from laughter or sadness. You’ll either recoil from learning such personal details or lean in out of perverse curiosity and become engrossed.
It’s the latter sensation you’ll feel in Sam Boyd’s “In a Relationship,” a film that Southern California ethnographers will want to study decades from now and provides breezy entertainment in contemporary times, training its lens on two couples that are contrasts to one another, but involve three friends who’ve known each other since college. Matt (Patrick Gibson) and Owen (Michael Angarano) both grew up in Los Angeles, but went to school in New York where Owen met Hallie (Emma Roberts) and quickly became a couple while Matt’s been more of a free agent romantically, making him eager to meet Hallie’s new friend Willow (Dree Hemingway) upon arriving back in L.A. Willow, who clearly isn’t looking for a relationship, is nonetheless seduced by Matt at a 4th of July party in Malibu, where the fireworks that go off aren’t limited to the sky as Owen and Hallie fight over her concern that she’s left a candle burning at her place, while Owen just wants to watch the spectacle.
What seem like vapid arguments by superficial people become intriguing as Boyd investigates all the posturing that goes on, with no one ever really articulating what they want as they stay in unhealthy relationships to keep up appearances. As Owen and Hallie’s three-year romance – or is that five? The two can’t agree on even this – begins to fizzle, Matt and Willow’s starts to take off, yet both have the same creaky foundation that the people involved aren’t connected to each other so much as an idea of where they think they should be in their twenties, trying to be adults more than in name only. Boyd’s eerily authentic view of this quartet threatens to turn “In a Relationship” from a light dramedy to a horror film, but it’s leavened by his equally shrewd observations about the culture, with Matt’s idea of a grand romantic gesture being a tour of the O.J. Murder scene after Willow’s casually mentioned she’s recently watched the miniseries and Hallie’s idea of an old couch that “wouldn’t be accepted at a Goodwill” looks like something a designer shop would gladly take and sell for $300 under the distinction it’s “vintage.” Of course, brunch is also brought up in the film as well and while you may not see the characters ever sit down to eat, the film itself has plenty of bite.
“In a Relationship” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will next play at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21st at 9:30 pm at the Regal Battery Park, April 23rd at 6 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea, and April 24th at 9:45 pm at the Regal Battery Park.