Review by Philippe Theise
The first time I saw “Gabi on the Roof in July,” the new film by Greenpoint writer/director/ actor Lawrence Michael Levine that was part of the Brooklyn International Film Festival, (which ended on Sunday), I found the characters so lifelike and contemporary that I could picture them walking right behind me down the sidewalk as I exited the theatre. A portrayal of the shifting relationships, sexual experiences, and creative efforts of young people who are drawn to North Brooklyn for its artistic energy, the film is something of a marvel, its scenes a series of realistic, interlocking rings around the rosy of a North Brooklyn summer.
The story begins when Gabi, a precocious undergraduate, arrives in New York to spend the season living with her brother, Sam, a young painter with a promising career. Sam lives with Charles, who is shy and bookish, and begins hosting Garrett, a rakish, stoned couchsurfer and old friend who immediately takes a shine to Gabi. She is joined by Dori, her bff and partner-in-crime, and along with Garrett, the three begin enacting nominal art projects involving nudity and whipped cream. Meanwhile, Sam is moving from a relationship with his doting girlfriend, Madelyn, to an attempted reconciliation with an alluring ex, Chelsea. Through it all, the recent split between Sam and Gabi’s parents pervades the dynamic between the siblings: while Gabi claims to oppose monogamy, she’s clearly hurt by her brother’s infidelity, which mirrors their father’s in her eyes.
Excellent dialogue and performances abound throughout the film. In one memorable scene, Sophia Takal, who edited the picture and plays Gabi, gloriously wrecks a job interview at a gallery by mimicking the well-coiffed gallerist’s every word and move. As Chelsea, Amy Seimetz’s skittish facial movements, fractured utterances, and upper-class accent create a character who’s made of shards of frosted glass—hug her and expect to bleed. Brooke Bloom is crisp as Madelyn: when Sam jokes that he slept with Chelsea, her elevated, pitch-perfect response, “I didn’t care for that joke,” sounds like a rhetorical corset in a film that is mostly in its underwear. Louis Cancelmi is an all-world mooch as Garrett, and Levine plays Sam with a scruffy, articulate charm that’s easy to watch. Although some of the characters are in pain, their consistent vivacity makes “Gabi” a splashy, happy film.
During my second viewing at Williamsburg’s indieScreen, I paid more attention to the growth of Charles and Dori, two characters who aren’t as prominent as the others but give weight to the film. Although Charles never drops trou, he stands nearby as Garrett, Gabi and Dori scavenge for food on the street, joins them for a picnic in McCarren Park, and reads with Dori on the apartment couch. His social emergence comes through simply being present with others, an inclusive imperative that Dori, who seems aloof early in the film, directs at Chelsea for refusing to remain seated at Charles’ birthday party. Later, Dori lets her guard down completely and reveals that she wants Charles to notice her dress, which he does with a courage and moderation—“It’s a nice dress,” this paunchy, former shut-in says to a slim, attractive 22-year old—that achieves gravitas. Actors Robert White and Kate Lyn Sheil deserve credit for portraying characters who change so slowly and meaningfully—their relationship grows like a tree within the diverse ecosystem of the film.