“This Closeness” is a very uncomfortable film, and that’s by design. Writer-director-actor Kit Zauhar‘s story of a couple’s unsettling stay at an Airbnb has its share of cringe-inducing moments, plenty of Gen Z cynicism, and leans heavily on its low budget mumblecore roots.
ASMR YouTuber Tessa (Zauhar) and her boyfriend Ben (Zane Pais) are in Philadelphia for the weekend to attend his high school reunion and have rented a room in a stranger’s apartment. Their host Adam (Ian Edlund), an obvious loner, is a very strange fellow. He begins to eavesdrop on the most private, intimate parts of the couple’s life, becoming a socially awkward voyeur. Since Ben is still stuck in his high school glory days, he loves the attention he’s getting from his old classmates and focuses his time and energy on former flame Lizzy (Jessie Pinnick) instead of his current girlfriend. Feeling neglected, Tessa turns to Adam and after spending more time with him, she finds that he’s actually quite charming.
The script is good if threadbare, and the film drags in several parts. What keeps it mildly compelling is the idea of loneliness, connection, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations that can lead to further isolation. All of these characters are facing painful feelings of loneliness, and they all deal with it in different ways. Zauhar writes what she knows and in the process, captures the reality of a twentysomething relationship with deft honesty. If you’re that age or can remember being that age, a great deal of this film will resonate.
Zauhar touches on some interesting points with her screenplay, including the contradictory nature of some women who crave attention but are simultaneously offended and upset by it. Going further, she beautifully expresses the reality of staying with a partner out of convenience rather than true love. There are nice moments between Ben and Tessa where it’s clear they could make it as a couple, but is that enough to overlook all of their differences?
Zauhar’s direction is straightforward with plenty of long takes that make the film play like theater, which in turn builds an intimacy with the audience.
She’s a skilled writer and director, but Zauhar isn’t much of an actor. Her performance is amateurish and distracting, and the film would have worked much better with a more professional lead. Her acting style and limited range doesn’t fit the material very well either, which is a big drawback. Even her character isn’t all that interesting. Thankfully the supporting cast picks up the slack, and this quickly becomes Edlund’s film, as he is terrific as an outsider loner who doesn’t feel seen.
The film’s biggest stumbling block is that it simply isn’t something that’s fun to watch. It’s very talky, with a series of underhanded comments made at Tessa’s expense and distressing fights that most couples have had over the course of their relationships. There’s plenty of truth here, but it causes great discomfort for the viewer (which mirrors the feelings the lead characters are also experiencing). It’s a story about being stuck in the past and finding the courage to move forward, despite how intimidating that can be.
“This Closeness” works fine as a festival film, but I don’t see much appeal beyond those parameters.
By: Louisa Moore