Synopsis: A successful “house tuner” in New York City, who calibrates the sound in people’s homes in order to adjust their moods, meets a client with a problem he can’t solve.
Stars: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Alex Karpovsky, Austin Pendleton, Bruce Altman
Director: Michael Tyburski
Running Length: 85 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: I know it’s a horrible thing, environment-wise, but I miss the feel and smell of paper. I especially had a fondness for receipts, the kind that were in a pad that you could write, rip, and hand off. Feeling that slip of paper in your hand was such a enjoyable thing and the smell of the ink just put me in a comfort zone, like the aroma of an old book that has sat in a library for years. Early on in the new film The Sound of Silence, a man gives his client a receipt like the one I mentioned and for a brief moment I was transported exactly to where these characters were in New York City. I could see the apartment, understood the environment. It all made sense. All because of that one slip of paper that evoked such a strong memory in my mind.
It’s the first and last time I connected with the movie.
I could say the movie was one-note. I could say the characters were off-key. I might mention the script had pitch problems. I’d offer the directing was a tad tuneless. All puns I will refrain from using when discussing this languid tale of a man that specializes in finding what’s sonically out of alignment in your home and making adjustments to help you lead a happy life. Based on a 17-minute short film that has been unevenly expanded to feature length by the original creators, it’s a somber sit that’s not made any easier by mannered performances that grate on the nerves.
Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard, Jackie) is a character that can only exist in an indie movie set in NYC. A rumpled tweed jacket-wearing specialist that has clients around the city needing his particular talents in sussing out what underlying tones might be giving them any sort of malady from anxiety to insomnia. When he’s not performing tune ups, he’s searching the city for hot spots of ambient sound that he can record to corroborate his long gestating research project about urban soundscapes. With his tuning forks in hand and ready to clang, he can be found in the park, on construction sites, or wherever the heart of the city beats greatest. Though he longs to publish his work, he also can’t bring himself to completely share it with the world. What’s worse, he eschews the oncoming corporatizing of the work he does as in independent contractor so he feels like his days as a big fish in a small pond are numbered.
His newest client, Ellen (Rashida Jones, The Grinch), calls on Peter to figure out why she can’t sleep at night. Recently broken up from a long term relationship, she’s living in a rent-controlled apartment surrounded by memories of a partnership that’s over and a future that’s never going to happen. Peter thinks she needs a new toaster. The rest of us know that Ellen needs a new apartment. For some reason (namely because writer Ben Nabors says so), Peter intrigues Ellen, even though he’s exhibited no charm or warmth toward her. When her problems persist, the two start seeing more of each other so Peter can determine where his original analysis was wrong, while at the same time his research falls into the wrong hands and his fragile psyche begins to fall apart.
I wonder how much better the movie would have been with another actor cast in the lead role. I’m normally a fan of Sarsgaard but not in this case. He’s so glum and inward facing that there’s no room for audiences to get any insight into his character. We don’t need to like Peter but we should at least get a sense of who he is and where he’s coming from. The way Sarsgaard plays it, who would want to spend time with him or invest in his research? Jones also is unnaturally muted, providing a flavorless take on a woman grieving a loss who bounces back with a total dullard. In small supporting roles, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Austin Pendleton (Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles), Alex Karpovsky (Hail, Caesar!), and Bruce Altman (Fifty Shades Freed) at least seize their opportunity to make some sort of impression with their limited screen time.
For an 87-minute movie, The Sound of Silence feels about twice that length. It’s a bad example of a NYC-set indie that has people moping around in earth tones always speaking in ‘inside voices’ and desperately wanting to be taken seriously. I’m fairly sure the filmmakers have made up Peter’s profession but the kernel of an idea they have isn’t a bad one, it’s just that it never grows into something that’s more interesting than it’s thirty second elevator pitch. The characters aren’t interesting or worth investing in and the movie doesn’t end as much as it merely stops. Kind of like this review.