This review was originally posted as part of our SXSW coverage.
Wobble Palace, as you may guess if you know director Eugene Kotlyarenko’s other work, is a bit uncomfortable, a bit weird, and insanely satirical. It’s almost fantastical in its presentation and yet simultaneously grounded in a harsh realty that doesn’t have time for the romance. That makes plenty of sense since the film has two dueling themes: one a love story and the other a commentary on millennial culture, and engagement with each other.
These two, at times contrasting, ideas lead to a film that is both insightful, but heavy-handed. A quirky movie, that feels like it wants to say more than it actually can. Kotlyarenko is skilled at building the relationship, but his social commentary doesn’t land as well.
Director: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Release Date: October 5, 2018 (Limited)
The film opens with a phone screen, the text app open as we see a conversation between a couple that spans years (and multiple iPhone updates). This is the cue that social media, phone screens, and tech are about to frame the relationship and the film itself. Jane (newcomer Dasha Nekrasova) and Eugene (Kotlarenko) are in dire straights in their long-term, open relationship. So Jane suggests that they split up the house for the weekend to do whatever they like each day. Eugene goes first, with a string of unsuccessful hookups attempted, and Jane second, as she calls over her new love interest for a day of sex.
Things obviously don’t play out as the two expect, with a certain malaise to their entire relationship informed by their rampant use of social media, and the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election. When Kotlyarenko is weaving the film as the story of a collapsing relationship the movie is at its best. The film interweaves their relationship through their bumbling and tragic efforts to feel something while flashing back to tell the story of how they got here. The irony being that much like the text messages, social posts, and hashtags they seem to cling to, their relationship doesn’t have any of the connections they think it does. It isn’t until the conclusion of the film that they are able to find happiness in one of the few moments where they’re not trying to present what they think they should and are just themselves.
This relationship layer really works in the film, but its the social commentary side of things that seems to lag behind it. Often the screen will be overtaken partially by a phone screen as Jane and Eugene text or use apps or post — the social world literally shoving into ours. It’s a good mechanic for the film, but also illustrates how the commentary can come on a bit too heavily, shoving its way into moments where it isn’t necessary to be so blunt. This is especially true as Jane begins narrating her section of the film, a jarring moment since Eugene’s section is not narrated. Her monologues on how she is different from all the other “basic bitches” are filled with self-doubt and insecurity that works for the character, but also land too many obvious punches on the themes of the film. It felt like Kotlyarenko, who also wrote the screenplay, didn’t believe the audience would fully understand.
Maybe that oversharing was more commentary on the way we overshare on social media, and how millennial love is often shrouded in ideals that are ridiculous, but if so it doesn’t always come off like that. Either way, the love story takes over the film by the end and delivers an emotional ending that beats back much of what the film is criticizing. It’s a transcendental film moment that helps to elevate the movie beyond what it is.
There’s also comedy here, mostly stemming from how socially awkward almost everyone in the film is. Eugene is a fedora bro in almost every way but the fedora, Jane is a narcissist, and all their friends are crummy. Yet the characters do seem to be real at the same time. It’s a great balance struck by the movie and helps the comedic moments actually work.
Wobble Palace is a movie that definitely wants to do something, but it’s not what it does best. The commentary dominates for too long when really the film is a fantastic look at how love works in a slight skewed millennial world. It’s interesting to see, but not as interesting as it wants to be.