A hipster’s paradise. A societal mix-tape art project that utilises dream-like ‘90s aesthetics to tell the seemingly disconnected lives of young people at leisure. Set to the cooing sounds of a retro synth-pop soundtrack by John Atkinson and highly stylized, stilted dialogue, it’s the sort of film that begs for silly comparisons. “Baywatch meets Rohmer” said BAM when the film premiered there at their recent Cinemafest. “Like if Alex Ross Perry remade Spring Breakers”, noted David Ehrlich in his review out of the same festival. An anthropological experiment where The Room meets The OC was my initial mode of comparison given its deliberate self-conscious take on the easy-living lifestyles of its predominant water-based twenty-something Californians. Whatever form you think it takes, there’s certainly something altogether curious about its 16mm vignettes.
L for Leisure is a film that is blissfully in its own head and never for a second peeks out from behind itself to let viewers in on the gag. If there is a gag. Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s debut feature-length film (their prior effort, Blondes in the Jungle which I have not seen, runs a scant 48-minutes) certainly has an odd sense of humour about itself that too often gives way to pure weirdness. It’s bonkers, but that’s not necessarily a good thing when dealing with a structure such as this where one story can hold more interest than another. “I get bored and distracted easily”, says one character as she discussed tree spirits (because why not) and it’s a comment that could easily apply to many viewers. There will be times where they struggle to remain focused on anything but the style. And while I am very much a defender of style-for-style’s-sake films with no substance, a bit more of a narrative context may have helped keep the still relatively scant 72 minutes of L for Leisure from drifting off to the beat of its own synthetic drum.
As it stands, the film’s most memorable image for me was that of lasers striking through smoke in a dark room. Recalling the rave culture of the early 1990s setting of the film as well as science fiction of the decade prior, it’s evocative without calling attention to itself like so much of the rest of the film. Likewise, an extended sequence involving two groups of friends – one of men, another of women – meeting in a fast food restaurant carpark and engaging in a series of sexual dares, including a dance sequence that recalls Spring Breakers and has a woozy ease that feels like capturing magic in a bottle, was my favourite of the nine or so mini-movies that make up Kalman and Horn’s feature. It feels like a part of a greater whole as opposed to a fractured puzzle piece that doesn’t belong. It was transfixed by it, refreshed by its lack of irony (oh man, the rollerblades from the opening segment!), and could have easily watched more.
L for Leisure is a difficult film to get my head around. It has so many elements to beguile me and I frequently found myself taken in by this outré Palo Alto of sorts, but too often found it didn’t quite know what to do with the various successful elements. The parts that I liked I like a lot. The parts I didn’t care for I struggle to even remember; they slide out of the memory like the water off of a surfer’s wetsuit clad body like the man at film’s end. L for Leisure will likely be a film for cinephile hipsters who found Miranda July’s The Future just too mainstream for their tastes and who want to relive the era of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, but if its characters went to the beach and acted like aliens who had only observed human interactions from episodes of Saved by the Bell and MTV (hello most random Mariah Carey musical performance you’ll ever see). As its frequently inebriated (“I’m feeling really mellow” say multiple un-connected characters, the closest this film gets to a catch phrase, I guess) character drift wistfully about throughout each other’s’ existence, L for Leisure’s period comedy never really feels like it comes together. I don’t believe the filmmakers mean for any of the socio-political mumbo-jumbo to be taken seriously, it’s hard not to view it all as just a big joke.