Olivia Thirlby is making out with a guy in an airport parking lot as they walk to his car. They met on the plane. They’re wearing skinny jeans. He drives her to Silverlake. There’s a vintage camera on her lap. Light-saturated shots of the passing streetscapes are interspersed. If you’re not already thinking “This is some hipster shit” by the time she arrives at John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt’s lovely house surrounded by trees, this movie is for you.
Martine (Thirlby, probably best known as Ellen Page’s BFF in Juno or as Dredd’s partner) is a 23-year-old artist who is connected to sound engineer Peter (Krasinski) through a friend of his psychiatrist wife Julie’s (DeWitt). She comes to California from New York to work with Peter on her film about ants, and lives in the family’s pool house for the duration. Rounding out the members of the offbeat artistic household are Peter’s assistant David (Rhys Wakefield), Julie’s sixteen-year-old poet daughter Kolt (India Ennenga, a dead ringer for Saorise Ronan), and Julie and Peter’s preschool-aged son Dusty (Mason Welch).
The rest should be obvious. Martine and Peter play with sound. Martine has no idea how to direct her actors. Kolt has a schoolgirl crush on David while her best friend Avi (Sam Lerner) sits by. Julie’s filmmaker patient (Justin Kirk) is a total lech and wants to bang her. Dusty hangs out and is cute. Kolt’s Italian tutor (Emanuele Secci) is a creeper. Julie’s ex (Dylan McDermott) comes by for dinner and Martine can’t explain her art. Of course she got sued for coercing her ex-boyfriend into posing nude for her. Of course she makes out with David in his car in the driveway while Kolt looks on heartbroken from the window. Of course Martine and Peter fuck in the soundproof recording studio while the whole house goes about their lives. Of course Peter blows up when he sees Martine continue flirting with David. Of course Julie has the whole thing figured out, the arrangement implodes, and Martine is sent packing.
Much of the acting is lovely, particularly DeWitt as a cautiously welcoming hostess and a warm and thoughtful mother, and Ennenga as a young girl learning about love and sexuality. Krasinski shows his chops as a dramatic actor while also dropping some familiar comedic moments. Thirlby floats through the film, as Martine struggles to connect with anyone on a subject other than love or sex. Likewise, it’s difficult to connect with her, though she’s interesting to watch, particularly as Julie bids her farewell and Martine realizes how much Julie knew. Unfortunately these performances are in a predictable and unpersuasive story that doesn’t say anything new about love, sex, infidelity, art, or growing up. There are a lot of “sound moments” – long shots of highways, trees, backyards, riding in cars – where you’re just meant to listen. When the protagonist is working on sound for her film that makes sense, but it’s overused here and becomes tiresome.
In one scene, where Martine and Peter are recording the two actors she’s hired to play ants in her film, she struggles to get one of them to understand how she wants him to read his lines. After eight takes of this, all seemingly the same, he replies that “I’m not an actor who minds taking adjustment, as long as the director is actually saying something” before storming out of the studio. While easily taken as a comment on artists, their work and how it gets made, the more I thought about it the more it summed up Nobody Walks for me. I’m willing to accept some hipster shit, some Instagram aesthetics, some weird art film about ants, as long as it’s actually saying something. Nobody Walks isn’t – at least, not anything worth listening to.