The penultimate scene in the film, a 9 minute shot that packs one hell of a punch, makes perfect sense once the initial shock wears off.
The Color Wheel
JR (Carlen Altman) just broke up with her boyfriend, a former college professor of hers before she dropped out of school. With no one to turn to, she calls up her brother Colin (Alex Ross Perry) to help move her things out of the professor’s home. JR, an aspiring news broadcaster, repeatedly manipulates the truth to make her dead-end career choice seem prosperous to others. Colin, still living at home with a girlfriend he hates and having no real direction in his life, is needlessly bitter in social situations. JR picks her brother up and in no time the two of them are off.
Alex Ross Perry, the director/co-writer/star/producer of The Color Wheel (just to name a few of his duties here), is working in more familiar genre territory compared to his singularly weird debut Impolex. The story of two siblings who don’t get along road-tripping sounds like the sort of indie fare Sundance or SXSW would gleefully accept. What makes The Color Wheel stand out from other road-trip films, and also part of its brilliance, is how Perry completely demolishes all genre expectations to the point of repelling potential viewers.
The first third of the film spends almost all of its time with JR and Colin. The only other character with any lines is the owner of a Christian motel who refuses to let the two of them share the same room unless they’re married. The way that this broadly comic situation is filtered through Perry’s direction and writing (which he co-wrote with Altman) immediately sets the off-kilter tone that runs through the rest of the movie. Watching JR and Colin interact with each other ranges from annoying to downright hilarious, with so many snipes and insults tossed back and forth it’s impossible to catch all of them at once.
Once JR and Colin do start interacting with other people, things take a surprising turn. Everyone they encounter treats the both of them like garbage, starting with JR’s professor/ex-boyfriend (Bob Byington) who ruthlessly insults her as she flails around trying to defend herself. Suddenly JR starts to turn into a more sympathetic character, and The Color Wheel starts to feel like everything is filtered through Colin and JR’s skewed perspective. Neither of them get along with each other over the bulk of the film, but they both share similar situations and anxieties.
All of this culminates into a long sequence where the two go to a party held by old high school acquaintances. The party doesn’t feel natural in the slightest, playing out like the absolute worst case scenario one would associate with going to visit high school friends. Everyone at the party is successful with a career, and at one point they directly confront JR on what she’s doing with her life. By the time they leave the party JR and Colin’s loneliness is more apparent than ever. The penultimate scene in the film, a 9 minute shot that packs one hell of a punch, makes perfect sense once the initial shock wears off.
Alex Ross Perry has defined himself as one of the more exciting new directors with The Color Wheel, a movie bursting with ideas that also serves as a necessary shot in the arm for American independent cinema. The content, along with Perry’s comedic style, would make for a great double feature with The Comedy, but only the stronger types could be able to make it through both films.