By Don Simpson | March 3, 2015
Director: Ryan Piers Williams
Writer: Ryan Piers Williams
Starring: America Ferrera, Ryan Piers Williams, Melonie Diaz, Jon Paul Phillips, Common, Amber Tamblyn, Danny Deferrari, Dree Hemingway, Maria Dizzia
Mark (Ryan Piers Williams) and Sylvia (America Ferrera) have been together for a long time, but the connection and intimacy of their relationship is severely suffering. It is readily apparent that they have lost the ability to effectively communicate with each other and their career paths — Mark is a screenwriter, Sylvia works for a corporation — have taken them in drastically different directions. The emotional distance between her and Mark has pushed Sylvia to spend lunch breaks having sex with a co-worker (Common) in between shots of tequila. After Sylvia confesses her infidelities, Mark sees no other option than to move out of their house.
Mark goes to stay with his friend Jake (Jon Paul Phillips), who is also muddling through the dazed and confused aftermath of a bad break-up; so Jake keeps his mind occupied with deejaying, modeling, surfing, painting and taking Polaroids. Meanwhile, Sylvia is in desperate need of a girlfriend, so she attempts to reconnect with Jen (Melonie Diaz), whose emotional stability is just as fractured as the other protagonists.
Without ever feeling gimmicky, writer-director Ryan Piers Williams tells the stories of the four protagonists in the form of chapters named after each character. With the narratives of the characters so closely intertwined, the boundaries between the four segments often become blurred; their stories bleed intimately into each other rather than remaining within their own silos. Since the film begins and ends with Sylvia and Mark’s relationship, it makes perfect sense that even Jake and Jen’s narratives inform our understanding of Sylvia and Mark.
The tone of X/Y is overwhelmingly morose as Williams uses the film to examine the difficulties of modern day relationships. We passively observe the four characters as they make poor choices, but Williams never judges their mistakes and misgivings. Each misstep is intended to function as a lesson learned, leading the characters on their paths to self-improvement. So, yes, Williams’ overall message is positive, but his flawed-and-vulnerable-yet-not-entirely-unlikable characters must traverse a long dark tunnel before reaching the light. Just like the gray urban landscape of Manhattan, Williams keeps the character portrayals in the gray middle ground, rather than deeming them “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong”; even the cultural dividing lines of race and sexuality are admirably erased.
X/Y cleverly focuses on how these urbanites are so connected with technology, yet their face-to-face interpersonal skills have devolved into a near-Neanderthal state, often resorting to arguing rather than reasoning. Sylvia, Mark, Jen and Jake might communicate via their smartphones and laptops on a constant basis, yet they all suffer from their ability to connect intimately (or deeply) with someone. They share an intense desire to build and maintain profound relationships, but they have no idea how to achieve that.
In the highly capable hands of this impeccably casted ensemble, X/Y delves deeply into an emotional honesty that is not just raw, it is transformative. Williams gets the absolute best out of each of his actors — including himself — achieving a gut-wrenching intimacy that seems to be unrivaled in cinema today.