Director: John Chuldenko
Starring: Todd Grinnell, Ali Hillis, Kevin Linehan, Erin Chambers, Erin Gray
The challenges of a young marriage without kids is an infrequent subject in movies, but that’s the sweet spot of examination in writer-director John Chuldenko’s bittersweet, fitfully engaging “Nesting,” which benefits from a pair of appealing leads and this sort of original focus, but ultimately doesn’t showcase enough psychological perspicacity or elicit a deep enough audience identification to rise above the level of bohemian curio.
Los Angelenos Neil (Todd Grinnell) and Sarah (Ali Hillis), a thirtysomething but childless married couple, find themselves stuck in a bit of a relationship rut. They have to clear out of their house for several days for repairs, so Neil impulsively purchases a used Volvo, the type of car in which they shared a road trip many years ago. They initially set out for San Francisco, but get waylaid by a night of drinking and exploring their old haunts in Silverlake, the trendy neighborhood where they first met. The pair end up breaking into the old apartment they first shared and, discovering that it’s vacant, squatting there illegally for a few days, reconnecting with their twentysomething identities. After a party gets out of control, however, the property’s landlord finds out, and Neil and Sarah have to rely on grown-up resources to avoid some serious consequences.
Chuldenko has a gift for relationship shorthand, and there’s plenty of smart snap to his dialogue (“Women don’t go for the fuck-ups anymore,” advises one of Neil’s ex-girlfriends, “not if they watch ‘Oprah'”). Chuldenko knows how to decode and impart the slow drift from life-of-the-party hipster couple to yuppiedom, as evidenced by the fact that Neil knows the number of drummers Nirvana cycled through before Dave Grohl, but also the winner of the last season of “The Bachelor.”
And “Nesting” is well cast, too — this certainly feels like a real couple, in many respects. Grinnell comes across kind of like a cross between Paul Rudd and Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs.” He’s rakish, appealing and ever-present in scenes, reacting in subtle but smart fashion to various small cues from his fellow actors. Hillis, too, radiates real-woman charm; she’s attractive, smart, sassy and a bit vulnerable.
It’s a shame, then, that the movie’s ambling story fumbles away all that it has going for it. “Nesting” flirts with a bit of deeper subtext (Sarah is the chief breadwinner, while Neil seems to float by, occupationally and otherwise, in some vaguely defined role as a mystery shopper), but doesn’t quite root down heartily enough into these issues to make sincere or insightful statements about (disproportionate) shared-income coupledom, and its effects on post-millennial masculinity. Vague, free-form malaise is what Chuldenko wishes to examine, but there’s just not enough of a counterbalancing outside force or action to really drive this shaggy narrative forward, and give it a unifying vision and momentum that holds one’s attention outside of the scene-to-scene charms.
“Nesting” is the cinematic equivalent of a charming little indie rock/emo debut; there’s color around the edges, a bit of melodious cleverness and flashes of promise, but just not enough to quite tip it over fully into a confident, unqualified recommendation.
Written by: Brent Simon