“Maybe love wasn’t what you thought it was when you started.”
We are plunged into a pair’s first date in the pre-title sequence of Brian Ackley’s exquisitely sensitive Uptown. What do Ben, (like Ackley) a filmmaker/actor, and Isabel, a paid dog-walker, whom (he tells her—and himself) he wants in his new film, hear? When finally they emerge from the restaurant, the sound volume ratio of couple-to-traffic noise matches that of the couple-to-inside restaurant noise, suggesting that the world that is too much with us is pretty much irrelevant to them. Ben and Isabel interfere with themselves; they are too much with themselves, as they try desperately not to sound trite or stupid, to listen intently while also framing a response to what the other soul hasn’t quite said yet, to pull through selfconsciousness and vulnerability while trying to hide their selfconsciousness and vulnerability. It is another first date—and the background noise that we silent interlopers battle is correlative to all the interior noise that Ben and Isabel battle.
Together, the young couple walks the night, investigating New York City architecture; superimpositions delicately unsettle the frames, suggesting Ben’s loose-endedness. wobbling prospects for the couple’s relationship. Isabel, after all, is married; and Ben is very lonely by practice. He chooses friendship with Isabel over finding some other girl and freefalls into his loneliness, hitting rock bottom when Isabel’s husband (she says) puts his foot down. Isabel wasn’t the problem, he concludes; he is the problem because of the choices he makes. Is it possible he has come to this realization before—one that proves meaningless whenever it again wars with his hungry feelings of romance?
Written by Ackley and his improvising actors, Uptown is essential—as far as I know, the best American film of 2009.