I often feel hopeless at the end of a film festival because I made all the wrong picks. I avoid trailers and prior press to go in as cold as possible, going off the description in the guide and hoping for the best. On paper, “a romantic comedy about dating in the age of smartphones in Los Angeles” sounds horrible, and handled by most people, it usually is. But I really liked Wobble Palace, written and directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, which screened twice at the Maryland Film Festival last weekend. Kotlyarenko also stars in the movie as Eugene, alongside Dasha Nekrasova, playing Jane, his girlfriend of four years. Their relationship is bookended by Barack Obama’s second term, meeting in line to vote in 2012 and breaking up on the eve of the 2016 election.
Right before Halloween, Jane suggests splitting up their house—“Wobble Palace”—for the weekend, where they both get a day to be alone or see other people. The modern dating world shown in Wobble Palace seems so exhausting: Eugene wakes up and immediately goes on Tinder and gets a match while he’s taking a shit. He goes on four dates in one day, more bored than horny.
Emotionally adrift and aimless, Jane and Eugene search for some and find others. Jane reconnects with Ravi (Vishwam Velandy), swept up in the memory of great sex years ago, and they have a much nicer time together than Eugene does with any of his dates, until Ravi comes inside of Jane and she throws him out—disgusted, disappointed, upset. The fantasy has been destroyed. Sean Price Williams’ cinematography covers all the romantic and sexual turmoil of Wobble Palace with a super saturated, glowing aura, giving the movie a dreamlike, candy-coated sheen of a memory half-remembered, on the verge of being forgotten. It’s beautiful to look at, and at only 86 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome or verge on self-indulgent.
Wobble Palace isn’t a political movie, or a message movie about “our moment.” It’s not striving to be anything other than a day in the life of twentysomethings in LA in 2016. We don’t need that world spelled out for us or wrestled with—privilege, gentrification, and the sociopolitical climate of that fall are treated routinely. Eugene asks one of his dates if she has a trust fund, and she nonchalantly replies, “I’m taken care of.” Jane and Ravi discussing white people: “Yeah, I’m white. Well, I’m bi-curious.” Earlier, Ravi reveals that he’s a Trump supporter. Jane is incredulous: “He hates brown people.” Ravi: “Yeah, but not me: thinks like a white guy, rich, with all the perks of being a POC.” We never make it to November, and their decision to keep the election on the horizon keeps the movie from being loaded and bogged down with boring political commentary.
Again, in the wrong hands, Wobble Palace could’ve been a cloying disaster, but Kotlyarenko and Nekrasova make it work because their characters aren’t Millennial stereotypes: they’re familiar people, and they have a sense of humor: biting, ironic, sarcastic, and allergic to sentimentality and refreshingly realist, not fatalist at all. The arc of their relationship and their love for each other is the core of the movie, even as we watch it disintegrate. Wobble Palace is one of the best movies I’ve seen this decade about the vicissitudes of everyday life as a Millennial: so seemingly free, but paralyzed in a world of infinite choice under the heel of rapacious capitalism, left to fend for themselves and construct meaning in a society that insists that nothing matters and sex is as casual and mundane as ordering food or an Uber.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith