AFI Fest 2011
By Don Simpson | November 2, 2011
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Writers: Alex Ross Perry, Carlen Altman
Starring: Alex Ross Perry, Carlen Altman, Kate Lyn Sheil, Ry Russo-Young, Bob Byington, Anna Bak-Kvapil
The Color Wheel begins shortly after J.R. (Carlen Altman) — an aspiring broadcast journalist — drops out of college because of a harsh break-up with “one of the top broadcast-journalism professors in the entire state.” She arrives unannounced at her brother Colin’s (Alex Ross Perry) house to guilt him into going along with her on a road trip to her arrogant ex’s (Bob Byington) home to collect her belongings.
It should be noted that the oh so snarky siblings are not friends; in fact, they appear to hate each other with fiery passion. We can only assume that J.R. turned to Colin for assistance with this venture because she was too embarrassed to ask any of her friends. Considering her overall lack of respect for Colin — and vice versa — J.R. probably could not give a furry rat’s ass about Colin’s opinion on her train wreck of a relationship with her boy toy teacher. Besides, Colin is family, so how could he not assist his sister during a moment of severe distress?
The claustrophobic journey brings out the sharpest barbs in their respective dictionaries as a no holds barred assault of verbal pummeling commences. As the sibling bickering and squabbling rages on, we get to know J.R. and Colin well enough to realize just how vulnerable and wounded they really are. Their penchant for jaded sarcasm, as it turns out, is merely a defense mechanism. They obviously know each other’s weaknesses all too well and they are just trying to boost their own egos by snapping belittling jabs at each other. Somehow by providing this insight to the audience, The Color Wheel is snidely able to develop into a sympathetic film about two very mean spirited people.(Well played, sir. Well played.)
The audience’s sympathy for J.R. and Colin might begin to wain, however, after the shocking conclusion. (It is excruciatingly difficult to discuss the ending of The Color Wheel without some major spoilers; but I will do my best, because there is nothing better than enjoying a virgin audience’s collective gasp of horror during said scene.) Admittedly, I initially believed the scene was a cheap and purposeful prank by writer-director Alex Ross Perry in order to solicit a strong reaction from the audience; but I have contemplated the scene long and hard and finally came to the conclusion that it conjures up even more sympathy for J.R. and Colin.
A somewhat sardonic portrayal of modern society, everyone in the world of The Color Wheel seems bigoted, jaded and petty. Whether or not Sean Price Williams’ lusciously framed black and white cinematography compliments this tone or plays in juxtaposition to it is up to the viewer to decide. As Jean-Luc Godard did in the early 1960s, Perry reveals a willingness to utilize certain genre-specific narrative techniques. While J.R. and Colin’s rapid-fire dialogue is delivered with slapstick precision, it is most surprising to see The Color Wheel coddle up with the contemporary rom-com genre; heck, even an occasional lowbrow sight gag is not out of the question — such as a character who wears a “Who Farted?” t-shirt while reading The Bible. Then again, what is not funny about someone wearing a “Who Farted?” t-shirt while reading The Bible?