Your Friends Close (2013). United States, 80 minutes. Directed by Jocelyn Kelvin. Starring: Jocelyn Kelvin and Brock Wilbur.
The 1980s had The Big Chill; the 1990s had The Ice Storm. Stepping into those shoes for the Noughties is Your Friends Close, which follows husband and wife video game designers at a nerdy house party on their last night before leaving for Europe to pitch a huge job. Jason (Brock Wilbur) is a charismatic and foolhardy visionary who creates amazing opportunities for himself, but lacks the integrity or discipline to follow through to the end. His friends, gossiping about him at the party, describe him as a Kennedy:
“The car-crash one.”
Becca (Jocelyn Kelvin), Jason’s wife, is the brains behind the curtain, sacrificing advancement of her own career to salvage his after a critical mistake. Jason talked his potential employer into giving Becca the other spot in Europe, but when everything goes awry, Jason’s spot is up for grabs and the party turns into a drunken survival-of-the-smartest competition. Becca rages against Jason’s heedlessness, but he reminds her why they’re together:
“I’m interesting. You’re good. It’s supposed to work out in the end. It always does.”
The only way for a low-budget indie film to succeed in this tried-and-true genre is to have a compelling story interlaced with solid performances. Your Friends Close is anchored by a delightfully clever screenplay, written by Brock Wilbur and developed with Jocelyn Kelvin. As the writers/directors/actors of this film, these two are clearly triple threats, and it’s inspiring to witness them pull off an ambitious feature so skillfully. The dialogue is astute and funny, and the characters get to be smart, self-aware, and flawed. These are “real” people at this party, not overly glamorous Hollywood types. Becca laughs off an Internet troll who described her face as “broke.” Someone wonders if the winner of the night’s game will be the next President of the United States … and this film was completed well in advance of Trump’s run for office. The cast is perhaps unknown to those outside of Los Angeles, but I recognized many names and faces; it’s a talented group of artists who work steadily, in addition to producing their own projects.
Leading the charge is director Jocelyn Kelvin, who, as well as starring opposite Brock Wilbur, displays a keen sense of what to do with her camera. I was especially impressed with her movement and transitions between scenes. There is a dance-like flow to her shots, which I find rare in new directors, and her work is enhanced by stellar editing from Lauren Tracy. Cinematographer Chad Nagel keeps the house warm and brightly lit, which is no small achievement when one is lighting for continuous follow shots and adjoining rooms. Kelvin understands how to shoot a party—the conversations, the progressive inebriation, the moments of unexpected hilarity, and the flashes of clarity. She also elicits entertaining and grounded performances from her large cast. They create the kind of people we know and recognize, and each character has a defining quality that adds a bit of new information to the story, simply because of who they are.
If I have one technical quibble with the film, it’s that the sound recording and mixing (both the dialogue and music) tend to run hot at times and sound under-mixed. It’s a common issue for micro-budget films, and while noticeable, it’s not enough to detract from the overall experience. Additionally, composer Joey Hyland has compiled an impressive rock/electronic/indie soundtrack that perfectly suits the party atmosphere and sounds like they paid millions in royalties (which they did not).
The icing on top of this virtual cake is the Turing test based game that is played at the party, where a computer simulation—nearly indistinguishable from a human—pits friends and lovers against each other as they disintegrate into a Lord of the Flies free-for-all of secrets and lies. The film’s tag line asks, “Who would you lose … to win?” The answer may surprise you.