The idea here is that a young woman from the east coast enters an easy-going Los Angeles household and so upsets its delicate balance that everyone becomes sexually unhinged.
You can write a character like that but good luck finding an actress to pull it off.
Olive Thirlby doesn’t come close but then again it’s not entirely her fault. Her director hasn’t put anything the least bit interesting or intriguing into either her character or the Silverlake household to motivate such erotic upheavals.
The woman needs only to walk into a room with the husband or get his ripped male assistant to drive her to an art opening and the men get a jolt to their crotch.
Were Russo-Young in a mood for comedy, it might have been amusing to have the wife get caught up in an affair with the house guest as well.
However, since the film’s characters have no life-force on their own, all the heavy panting is dull, dull, dull.
The usually reliable John Krasinski is unable to find a way to bring the unfaithful husband into any kind of focus. He’s a sound designer helping the guest on her artsy black-and-white installation film about insects. They work in a studio off the pool house that, as Peter says every few minutes, is “sound proof.”
Meaning, I guess, what happens in the pool house stays in the pool house.
But before the sound designer can get deeper in his guest’s art, she has already tumbled his assistant (Rhys Wakefield), thereby upsetting the 16-year-old daughter (India Ennenga) who harbors a crush on the assistant.
In order for the therapist-wife, played by another normally reliable actor, Rosemary DeWitt, to have something to do, the writers, Russo-Young and critics’ darling Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture,” HBO’s “Girls”), concoct a blatantly false and unlikely attraction between her and a patient, an egotistical though hugely insecure screenwriter played by Justin Kirk.
That attraction makes little sense (nor does Kirk supply any reason for it) but what to make of the film’s final emotional upheaval, between the young daughter and her middle-aged Italian tutor (Emmanuel Secci). This edges the film into territory much too ugly and unsettling for this lightweight melodrama.
These matters are over so quickly — a mere 82 minutes including credits — that you wonder where the film is. Not only does something seem to be missing, it all feels so pointless.
“Nobody Walks” came out of the Sundance Labs, which means material that has been carefully worked and reworked with professional mentors. Whatever the material, such Lab films usually have a solid narrative design.
Here not only do dramatic moments not ring true, the story meanders despite its brevity.
The only character who has any life is the most peripheral one, the daughter’s school chum, played by Sam Lerner. He clearly likes her, but she only seems to notice after she loses her dad’s assistant to the household vamp.
At a nighttime party, a rare excursion away from the overheated household, the boy takes the daughter aside and utters the film’s only funny line: “My mom is stoned — it’s hilarious!”
That’s the moment when the story’s potential comes into focus. If all the musical bedrooms had been seen through the teenagers’ eyes, then maybe other things might have been hilarious too.
As it is, you never even get to see his mom to decide for yourself whether or not she is indeed hilarious.
Opens: October 19, 2012 (Magnolia Pictures)
Production: Super Crispy Entertainment/Jonathan Schwartz/Andrea Sperling
Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Rhys Wakefield, Jane Levy, Dylan McDermott, Justin Kirk, Emmanuel Secci
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young
Producers: Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling, Alicia Van Couvering
Executive producers: Audrey Wilf, Zygi Wilf
Director of photography: Christopher Blauvelt
Production designer: Linda Sena
Music: Fall On Your Sword
Costume designer: Kim Wilcox
Editor: John Walter
R rating, 82 minutes