Nesting is a romantic comedy, released in 2012, and written and directed by John Chuldenko. The story revolves around a married Californian couple, Neil (Todd Grinell) and Sarah (Ali Hillis), who have settled down into mid-to-late-30s domesticity: their Saturdays are filled with Ikea catalogues, top quality home made coffee and time spent at the mall.
Both were, in their 20s, a tad more Gen-X, shall we say. While Sarah has seemingly grown up and ditched many of her older interests in favour of new ones, Neil – who has failed to shake off his slacker roots – finds that he is starting to become unhappy, and wishes he could get back together with the Sarah he knew a decade ago. Immaturely, he even tells her so to her face.
As they are about to have some building work carried out on their house, they opt for forced spontaneity and decide to take a road trip in a battered old Volvo Neil suddenly buys (as it is apparently the same car they used to own). They end up visiting the neighbourhood in LA where they used to live, and drunkenly break into their old, empty apartment. (Seemingly lifted by the old fixtures and fittings (Neil at one point adopts a sort of perverted look when turning on their old sink taps), the suggestion is of course that they are reminded of the happy time they shared in this apartment; but rather weirdly, the point is not made all that well, as the old apartment looks incredibly similar to their current house…all white walls and smart wooden flooring.) While squatting for a few days, the pair reminisce about their old lives by visiting restaurants they used to eat in, checking out bands at the local venue like they used to, and – in Sarah’s case – taking up an old hobby in photography. They realize – shock, horror – that they don’t actually need all their possessions and that they are perfectly happy with each other and a mattress in an otherwise empty room.
Unfortunately, that really is all there is to Nesting in terms of the story. It’s impossible to wring any drama or suspense out of a bored, wealthy couple squatting in an empty apartment for a couple of nights, but god knows the film tries to. It feels unnecessary to have stretched this out for an hour and a half, and when the inevitable conclusion appears – the hey-we-love-each-other-just-the-way-we-are bit – any viewer will have seen it coming since the fifth minute. Running time is largely filled by the same point being labouriously made over and over again: these people are getting older (gasp!) and preferred life when they were younger and living in a cooler neighbourhood (double gasp!). Or did they? (Triple gasp!) No actually they’re quite happy today after all, they just didn’t realize. (Quadruple-slap-me-in-the-face-with-a-giant-wet-kipper-affected-surprise gasp!).
The shoe-horned references to time passing by don’t quite make sense, either; Neil bangs on about early incarnations of the band Nirvana to lawyer friend Graham (Kevin Linehan), which suggests he pines for the late 80s/early 90s teenage years, but this is before he met Sarah. In a restaurant, when a waitress clunkily delivers the shocking news that the sandwich they used to regularly order has been renamed from “Culture Club” to “White Stripes”, the references just don’t make sense. I appreciate music fashions change quickly, but surely if they are harking back five years it would be better to say the sandwich has changed from “White Stripes” to … I dunno, something newer … “Haim”? Perhaps the script had several stages of development and just wasn’t updated – or honed – as thoroughly as it could have been.
It’s interesting that the characters are self-aware enough to identify themselves as Generation Ikea weekend warriors, but ironically there’s a cloying feeling of stock, flat-pack convention surrounding the entire movie. Some effort is made to make Neil and Sarah as likeable as possible, but as a committed curmudgeon I just found them extremely irritating with their constant middle class whining, completely oblivious to how privileged they actually are. Both leads undoubtedly try their best but I’m afraid the acting is often a little stilted, and the delivery of the film’s better lines just doesn’t quite work. When Grinell’s character picks up a guitar at one point and tweely bursts into a song about San Francisco, Hillis looks uncomfortable and spends most of the scene staring off into the middle distance. A penny for the actor’s thoughts at that moment, please. The type of couple they make is certainly believable, yet Neil and Sarah feel like casual acquaintances at best. They certainly don’t feel like a couple with several years of history, and so it’s difficult to care about their current “predicament”.
The minor characters that appear as friends of the couple are uniformly one-dimensional, and may as well have been cardboard cut outs in some cases; there seems to be little warmth shared between the people that populate this story. Neil’s friendship with Graham, for example, feels fake in every scene in which they are together, and when Sarah bumps into a band she used to know the suggestion is she is old friends with the singer, but it’s like watching a couple of robots on screen delivering the lines.
The jokes at the expense of the district of Silverlake generally fail to hit the mark, and seem to be made without any real warmth for the area; by way of comparison, I’m currently watching the third series of the brilliantly inventive, offbeat comedy series Portlandia on Netflix, and while that show’s constant (but ultimately loving) lampooning of hipster culture in Portland – where you know that the writers know the intended target inside out – feels fresh and current, Nesting‘s jokes feels dreary, a few years out of date and lacking in both spark and conviction. Watching it makes you yearn for the early verbal fizz and anarchy of Kevin Smith’s films.
Then there’s the camerawork. The cameras are largely static, with scenes usually filmed from the one angle; whether that’s a stylistic choice or a budget-related decision I don’t know, but watching Nesting as a result is akin to sitting through 90 minutes of clean, sanitized lifestyle adverts where everything’s in the right place and, visually, nothing interesting happens. I’m not intending to denigrate a profession that must often involve a lot of hard work, but sitting at home as a viewer it feels as though no-one involved is really trying to inject any energy into the movie. Even the casting is predictable: Todd Grinell physically resembles Paul Rudd – an actor who has managed to make a career out of this type of film – and his facsimile copy of Rudd’s bro-with-a-beer-and-a-retro-t-shirt schtick isn’t completely without charm, but it’s just so damn obvious. Though at least it has much more going for it than the unchecked juvenility of the Rudd-starring I Love You, Man.
My natural reaction is to be supportive of independent filmmakers as much as possible, and I don’t wish to be too harsh with my criticism. Ultimately, the people behind Nesting managed to independently make a film and get it distributed on a shoestring budget, which is always impressive. While I get frustrated when I see studio-backed major blockbusters with huge budgets that are absolute pieces of crap, I’d like to make at least some allowances for people who are making huge efforts, and no doubt personal sacrifices, in order to get their films made with considerably less money at their disposal. (And I am not intending for that to be patronizing, either, but it is mentioned as a genuine consideration that should be taken into account if you’re going to write about a film: some context is important if you’re going to slap a mark out of ten on something people have spent a lot of time on.) But I have to be honest, otherwise what’s the point in reviewing anything? Ultimately for me Nesting is a difficult film to like because there simply aren’t enough ideas at play or performances of quality to make an engaging movie out of the basic premise. While it’s commendably free of cynicism, too often it’s anaemic by-the-numbers dramedy with a few references to bands chucked in to try and convince you it has tapped into the zeitgeist. Unfortunately it hasn’t.
Directed by: John Chuldenko
Written by: John Chuldenko
Starring: Ali Hillis, Todd Grinell, Kevin Linehan
Running Time: 93 Minutes