SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 8, 2014
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring: Sophia Takal, Lawrence Michael Levine, Alia Shawkat, Annie Parisse, Jason Ritter, Kevin Corrigan, Marylouise Burke, Lindsay Burdge, Eleonore Hendricks, Jennifer Kim, Kent Osborne, Bob Byington
Even though the death of Barri (Sophia Takal) and Noah’s (Lawrence Michael Levine) downstairs neighbor (Marylouise Burke) is determined to be due to a heart attack, Barri is convinced that foul play is involved. While her boyfriend Noah is off at work, Barri’s suspicions get the better of her as she begins to snoop around their apartment building in search of clues. At first, Barri’s irrational inquisitiveness seems cute and endearing to Noah; but as her actions become more reckless, he begins to worry for her safety. In desperate need of the support that her boyfriend refuses to provide, Barri enlists their third roommate, Jean (Alia Shawkat), to assist in her investigation.
Lawrence Michael Levine reaches back to a seemingly dead genre, the screwball murder mystery, for his primary influences on Wild Canaries. Using The Thin Man series as one of his earliest reference points, Levine models Noah after William Powell’s Nick Charles, developing a character who is comically reserved and rational, yet despite his carefulness is also quite vulnerable. Noah is so tentative in his actions — well, except for whenever he is inebriated — that this character takes a backseat in the murder mystery to Barri. The plot of Wild Canaries could almost be explained as a modern day adaptation of Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) — which is debatably the last legitimate entry into the screwball murder mystery cannon — with Levine playing the Woody Allen to Takal’s Diane Keaton.
While Noah requires definitive reason to justify sleuthing, Barri is propelled solely by instinct and intuition. The rich comedic chemistry of Barri and Noah’s juxtaposed personalities seems to be derived from the roles that Takal and Levine play in their real life marriage. Wild Canaries plays like a psychological examination of their relationship, carefully observing Takal’s intentional irrationality as the chaotic counterpoint to Levine’s oh-so-serious stoicism. By purposefully exaggerating their personality traits and the situations in which their characters find themselves immersed, Levine creates a “worst case scenario” to test the limits of their relationship. Taking the personal angle out of the equation, Wild Canaries is an intriguing-yet-humorous analysis of masculine and feminine personality traits as it studies how the two sexes can interpret the exact same situation in drastically different ways.