Rotterdam 2024 Review: Certain Anxieties Can’t Be Passed Down in Ben Petrie’s Cleverly Chaotic “The Heirloom”

Eric isn’t as charmed as his partner Allie (Grace Glowicki) is watching old home movies in “The Heirloom.” For starters, they’re of her relatives rather than his, but that isn’t what’s making him anxious as she nuzzles up next to him, warmed up by him as much as she is by the nostalgia. Yet when she sees as a happy family from her past, he can’t see himself as part of her future when he’s woefully unprepared to take on such a life, often retreating to the office in their apartment to work on his screenplay that surely has an equal place in his heart as anything or anyone else does. You suspect “One Little Tickle,” the script he’s fussed over for the past five years, probably isn’t as good as it could be when he’s surely held himself back, something he may not be conscious of professionally but knows acutely when it comes to his personal life when a family starts to take shape in his house with the arrival of a new dog Milly and feelings of inadequacy start cropping up when she isn’t particularly responsive to commands.

If this sounds like well-worn territory, particularly in positioning its lead as a stunted filmmaker, “The Heirloom” actually comes across as inspired when bearing witness to a quiet quarterlife crisis for someone who is neither accomplished as an artist or an adult and has to reckon with decisions he’d rather put off a little longer. Assuming you know who’s behind the camera as well as in front of it, Petrie starts to let the artifice of what you’re watching fall away an edit is repeated or a crew member will walk into a shot (the only co-star Petrie and Glowicki have besides the dog) and the mirage of the comfortable life he’s constructed for himself starts to make itself evident to him as well when Milly, as close to a child as he and Allie may ever get to having, forces the issue.

You’re not entirely sure whether his insistence on adopting a rescue dog, which take longer to acquire in the COVID timeline “The Heirloom” takes place in, is a delay tactic or based in truly noble intentions, though it could easily be both, but it does expose the problems ahead for the longtime couple when Allie has looked into adopting a newborn, eager to simply have another warm body in the house. They end up with a rescue after all is said and done, whose resistance to emerging from their closet is the one way in which Eric and Allie can connect with the dog, often retreating to their separate quarters where they may not be shy about confronting each other, but the challenges in their relationship that only they can solve are another matter entirely. While Milly is doted over, there’s no such sympathy coming their way from one another and in a time of isolation, Eric and Allie are not only trapped in an apartment, but also inside their minds, with the responsibilities that come with the dog, such as determining what kind of diet it should be on, proving to be overwhelming.

If the choice between a meat or plant-based regimen is intimidating, the mere thought of other logjams ahead are paralyzing and although the notion of marriage between Allie and Eric looks increasingly untenable, Petrie uniquely fuses personal and professional anxieties into the nerve-racking comedy, never suggesting the audience is a voyeur, yet creating the kind of home movie that leaves in the bits that generally families would never think to hit the record button for. As uncomfortable as things get between Allie and Eric, Glowicki and Petrie have a set of shared sensibilities going back to the former’s directorial debut “Tito” that makes the strange rituals they have as a couple come off quite naturally and while there are rough edges when their eccentricities are on full display, Petrie has the good sense not to sand them off, showing what keeps the couple connected in spite of the diverging paths they seem to be heading in and to find a novel way to express how Eric isn’t wrong to think he’s living in a movie, but it’s definitely not ever going to be able to write himself.

“The Heirloom” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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