‘Peter and Vandy’: Past is present

October 8, 2009

‘Peter and Vandy’ is touching and insightful, a film that understands what that first whoosh of emotion in a relationship feels like – and how quickly love can change and vanish.

 

Told out of order, the film – written and directed by Jay DiPietro, based on his play – balances funny and sad moments and provides a springboard for strong, multifaceted performances by its two leads, Jess Weixler and Jason Ritter.

 

Like this year’s “(500) Days of Summer,” to which it bears a superficial resemblance, “Peter and Vandy,” which opens in limited released Friday (10.9.09), shows the beginning and end of a relationship before it gets to the middle section, while telling its story in nonlinear style. That juxtaposition – which gives the film no true present tense – takes a few minutes to get used to. But DiPietro makes it work, creating resonance between past and future, highlighting the way the relationship (and the two people in it) change over this unspecified period of time – and the way some things never change at all.

 

Peter (Jason Ritter) builds architectural models; Vandy (Jess Weixler) is a painter. They meet one day downtown, when they both buy food from the same street vendor and Peter strikes up a conversation.

 

Peter is eager, ingratiating, willing to do whatever it takes to get and hold Vandy’s attention. Vandy, a shade more confident, points out how often Peter apologizes unnecessarily. They click – sort of.

 

As DiPietro moves back and forth in time, we see them as a couple so familiar with each other’s tricks and quirks that deciding between dining out and ordering in – then figuring out what to order in – becomes a kind of passive-aggressive game, a far cry from Peter’s anxious-to-please vibe of the early days.

 

Early on, Peter is so grateful to have Vandy’s company that he’ll willingly do anything to keep it. By the time they break up, he’s complaining that he doesn’t recognize himself anymore – that he’s turned himself into someone he doesn’t know or like just to please her.

 

Vandy, in turn, sees Peter’s potential and sets out to shape him. But she winds up with something unexpected – someone she doesn’t necessarily like in the way she hoped.

 

DiPietro’s scenes dissect both the attraction and the power struggle within the relationship. He also captures moments when outside forces create tensions that have nothing to do with the people present. When Peter returns from an unsatisfactory job interview, he takes his anger out on Vandy – starting an argument about the way she makes a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s at once funny and a little frightening, as the ludicrous dispute escalates, despite the fact that their quarrel isn’t with each other.

 

It’s an acutely observed relationship, built around DiPietro’s seemingly casual drop-ins at moments that are either typical or illustrative – or both. He gets beautifully etched performances out of his leads, whether it’s Ritter’s puppyish energy or Weixler’s alternately calm and sly presence. There’s consistency and growth – as well as stasis – to the characters and the relationship.

 

It’s the little things that make a relationship work or not – and it’s the little things that keep you watching “Peter and Vandy,” hoping that these two young lovers figure out how to make love last.

 

 

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