For anyone who has ever gotten a traffic ticket, you know that it can be embarrassing, enraging, and even enlightening. Writer/director Adrian Murray hits all of those points in more in his very Toronto second feature, Retrograde.
Molly Richmond (Molly Reisman) is a white twenty-something Torontonian who has taken a day off her bland tech start-up job to help her new roommate Gabrielle (Sofia Banzhaf) move. In the opening minutes of the film, which is shot entirely from the backseat of Molly’s car, we witness her surprise at being pulled over by a police officer who gives her a ticket for careless driving. At $300, it’s an amount that Molly can afford, but her incredulousness at being ticketed soon leads to indignation. She wasn’t driving erratically and the cop waved her over to his lane. This is all a huge mistake. Obviously.
Utterly gobsmacked that she has been given her first ticket, Molly surveys her friends and consults a lawyer because everyone can see that she’s not the one in the wrong here. Hellbent on fighting this ticket, Molly uses the film’s 74-minute runtime to obsess over the fine, complain to anyone who will listen, and tie up the Ontario court system with her “case.” So blinded by her own righteousness, she fails to see and accept the acts of goodwill that come her way, from being given a severely reduced fine to Gabrielle’s offer to help her pay for the ticket just to have this chapter in her roommate’s life closed. But for Molly, it’s all a matter of principle.
A true slice of life movie, Retrograde is utterly mundane but nevertheless engrossing. With an almost voyeuristic lens, we are the fly on the wall watching the origin story of a “Karen.” Just as TikTok videos of indignant white women have gone viral and deliver small joys by sharing the downward spirals of Karens over the tiniest issues, Retrograde captures the most trivial aspect of Molly’s life. Her obsessive complaining only gears us up for her inevitable comeuppance.
Here, the voyeurism is heightened by the lack of score and music as well as the creative framing of scenes. The lack of style is the style in Retrograde. The camera lacks any dynamic movement and keeps its secondary characters out of frame when they are speaking as if to continuously remind us that Molly is the one with the Main Character Energy. Filming this way removes any tension from the room and gives us a truly neutral perspective on Molly’s situation: Our reaction to her is solely based on her reaction.
Reisman is great as Molly. She is undoubtedly the type of twenty-something Torontonian that many readers will recognize, either in themselves or friends. She’s the kind of person who kills the party vibe with long lectures that begin with a “well, actually…” An insufferable person made to suffer, the passive-aggressive Molly loses any sympathy she may have earned from her friends and the audience in a matter of minutes. The naturalistic performance from Reisman and the cast fit perfectly with Murray’s purposefully tedious narrative. Molly is a fully rounded and complex character who presents a challenge upon viewing: We don’t have to like her or agree with her to care where her journey takes her. Sure, she’s anxious and obnoxious, but her feelings and lived reality are valid.
As a whole, Retrograde will be sure to have some viewers asking, “That’s all?” but those who dig this kind of humdrum, ordinary situation explored through a creative lens will be rewarded. At a scant 74-minute runtime, you really can’t go wrong.