A lo-fi romantic comedy with a New York sense of humor and a tremendous supporting cast.
3rd Street Blackout
Not every sub-genre of cinema needs to contain likable characters for films to be successful. A huge number of affecting films have been produced, for years, concentrating on antiheroes: unpleasant characters not featured for the sake of enjoyment. However, when filmmakers are working within the confines of a tight sub-genre like talk-heavy, NYC-based tales of flawed romance, which is essentially what Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf‘s 3rd Street Blackout is, the characters must be relatively pleasant. That’s because rather than focusing on philosophy or atmosphere, the film chooses the route of a double character study and centers entirely on the mind state of the two protagonists, a seemingly happy couple named Mina and Rudy, played by the directors themselves.
Sometimes, when a director makes the decision to place themselves in the spotlight of their own film, they can become so wrapped up in their own vision that the story becomes overly personal and difficult for those who haven’t shared their life experiences. Here, the opposite is true; Farsad and Redleaf are so naturally able to realize the characters they’ve written for themselves that it’s difficult to remember that they’re the co-directors and not a silly New York couple with a set of eccentric friends.
3rd Street Blackout tells the story of a few days in the life of this couple, during which a blackout occurs across the entire city and they’re forced to actually communicate with one another rather than spending all of their time on their phones, as they usually do. This eventually leads Mina to reveal something to Rudy that she’s been bottling up for some time; said “something” is also revealed to the audience in flashback fragments throughout the majority of the film.
The non-linear style of editing that the film utilizes works to its advantage in raising the emotional stakes of the narrative, and simultaneously, creates a feeling of palpable suspense not common in most lo-fi romantic comedies. The film is indeed a comedy, but not in the pure sense at all because the audience is, for the most part, left in the dark regarding the portion of the story being flashed back to. It’s a sincerely funny film—you could draw comparisons between 3rd Street Blackout and shows like Broad City or High Maintenance with regard to its uniquely New York sense of humor—but its structural fragmentation also makes it an effectively frustrating and anxiety-inducing experience.
One of the main reasons why the film works so well is because of the talented supporting cast. Farsad and Redleaf are fantastic and believable as the leads, but the film wouldn’t have been nearly as strong had the slew of supporting characters not been so comically satisfying. The cast is stacked with recognizable faces such as Janeane Garofalo (Wet Hot American Summer), Devin Ratray (Home Alone), John Hodgeman (Bored to Death), Ed Weeks (The Mindy Project), Michael Cyril Creighton (Spotlight) and Phyllis Somerville (Little Children) who, in particular, gives an utterly delightful performance. Lesser known actors such as Katie Hartman and Becky Yamamoto show that they deserve recognition, the former taking on one of the chief supporting roles in the film and nailing every scene, and the latter having only one scene in the whole film, though it was possibly the film’s most hilarious moment.
Ultimately, 3rd Street Blackout is a simple movie focusing on complex characters. The way that the couple avoids addressing important issues through comedy is a realistic dynamic that’s easy for viewers to understand and even sympathize with. Much of the comedy in the film is admittedly crude, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Farsad and Redleaf pull off the crudeness, mostly because the audience can tell it’s not malicious and poorly intended; it feels harmless and reminds one of how important it is to be goofy every once in a while. Characters pop in and out of the film without much introduction, but it doesn’t matter. Actually, it works to the film’s advantage because every character is captivating, and that’s sort of exactly how it is in New York City anyway.
3rd Street Blackout isn’t just great because provides a good laugh; it’ll make you want to sit down and write some comedy of your own. It’s exciting to see a pair of independent directors with such an inspiring and authentic comedic voice.