Nobody Walks, from director and co-writer Ry Russo-Young, gets right down to business in its scant 82 minutes. No sooner do we meet Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a 23-year-old Brooklyn artist just off an LAX-bound flight than we see her making out with the guy with whom she has headed to the parking garage. It turns out they’ve only just met, and while she’s happy for the ride, so to speak, that’s all. I guess she doesn’t have much time to waste either.
In other words, this film bears a reasonable pedigree. So why is it such a wasted opportunity?
Lord knows it has nothing to with the cast, which features John Krasinski as Peter, an established sound editor with whom Martine gets linked to complete an experimental film for an upcoming gallery event. Peter is married to psychiatrist Julie (RoseMarie DeWitt), and together they raise two children from her first marriage to rocker Leroy (Dylan McDermott). Kolt (India Ennenga), their elder child, harbors a secret crush on Peter’s assistant, David (Rhys Wakefield). And before long, Martine will get caught up with both David and Peter. (Like I said, she moves quick.) It’s a plot so basic, so formulaic that even Julie herself calls Peter out on his burgeoning crush early in the film.
Not that Julie’s totally an innocent – she’s wrapped up in a flirtation of her own with Billy (Justin Kirk), an occupational indiscretion way worse than her husband’s, since she’s Billy’s therapist. Russo-Young follows these bright young things around. One of the factors preventing one from getting too involved in the film’s plot is just how inevitable everything feels. People couple with little motivation other than it feels like what needs to have happened; there is no emotional investment nor organic logic to the way these characters collide. These are smart people flattened into dumb, inobservant chess pieces. Only DeWitt and Kirk succeed in suggesting any kind of legitimate inner torment for their characters.
And one is never sure quite what to make of Martine, because neither the film nor her portrayer provides much insight into her. Is Martine a manipulator, a slinky minx using sexual attraction to get what she needs? It doesn’t seem like she wields feminine wiles for her own advancement because Martine does not seem to know exactly where she wants to be in general. But Thirlby never really hints at any lingering malaise that would cause her to make potentially destructive decisions. And the mention of a lawsuit by a previous boyfriend of whom she took and published nude photos only complicates the matter. Martine is a user, but not an abuser.
A third distancing factor is that all of these actors are stuck playing enviably successful people. Martine, not at even her quarter-century mark, already has gallery shows. Julie and Peter are highly regarded in their professions and own a gorgeous home. Their problems are all luxury ones, the stuff only of soap opera, not real drama. Whether it’s a direct adaptation or not, Nobody bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1960s film Teorema, by Italian socialist filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. But that film was undercut by Pasolini’s own subtext about homosexuality and duplicity in relationships. Everything in Russo-Young’s film, in contrast, feels foreordained, superficial, and unearned. Nobody learns anything in Nobody Walks.