We settled in for a quiet Friday night (post Thanksgiving festivities) with a crackling fire and a pair of small movies we thought would be interesting.

Uncertainty is a 4 year old Joe Gordon-Levitt outing, low budget, largely improv dialogue, about the decisions a couple take on 4th July in New York. The comparison to Sliding Doors is inevitable, but they choose chance, flipping a coin to decide whether to attend a family dinner or a friend’s party.

The film divides, following each option (handily colour coded for easy reference), with one thread following the quiet drama of Kate’s (John Carter‘s Lynn Collins) family as she tries to decide whether to keep her baby, and the other becoming a paranoid thriller after the couple pick up a cell phone in a taxi.

I’m going to spoil here, so stop reading if you’re curious in JGL’s back catalogue.

What thriller? The couple don’t have the brains to be convincing when they decide to hold the phone for ransom, after realizing there are at least 2 (probably 3) people after it, one of whom is willing to gun you down on the street in broad daylight. They run through the subway a lot; they go to their friend’s party; they are paranoid about tracking cell phone signals but don’t think twice about sending blackmail emails from an Internet cafe (and return to the same cafe to check for replies).

Although there are hints of what is at stake, the film isn’t an ‘in over their heads and stopping/succeeding at crime’ thriller – so these remain unresolved and the audience as are clueless as the couple, who eventually throw the phone off a bridge.

The slow paced family drama cross cuts, although there’s no overlap in threads, cutting the tension with what could be an interesting tale in its own right – but here so muted (literally – mumbling) that it just removes any gathering wind from its companion’s sails.

Spoiler: nothing happens. The couple make no choices of lasting effect in either thread, and end up where they started. This may be very true to life, but it’s 90 plus minutes of frustrating.

Compare and contrast Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, a colorful paean to childhood romance, the heroism of the oddball, and the dangers of dating a girl who carries lefty scissors.

Everything in this little wtf gem is off-kilter, awkward, and/or bumbling, but it certainly isn’t dull. Forced, possibly; over the top, certainly, but its pastiche of a 60s autumn is remarkably easy to watch thanks to the wholehearted embrace of its glorious cast (McDormand, Murray, Willis, Swinton, Keitel, Norton).

This is not real life, nor Enid Blyton; it is laugh out loud funny and headshakingly quirky. Not for those who don’t enjoy indie crazy, and I don’t think I could rewatch it – but a bundle of fun.

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