Writer-director Joanna Arnow’s feature debut, a droll and refreshingly intimate take on millennial alienation, follows thirtysomething Ann in a series of vignettes as she idles in a meaningless corporate job and various BDSM relationships.
The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed
Writer-director Joanna Arnow brings to her feature debut the singular, acerbic vision she pioneered in her shorts (Laying Out, Bad at Dancing) and her doc, i hate myself :). Her new film follows Ann (Arnow), a woman in her thirties stagnating in a long-term submissive sexual relationship with an older man, Allen (Scott Cohen). In a series of biting vignettes, Ann navigates the millennial trifecta of a dead-end corporate job, the online dating scene, and the struggle to keep the peace with a family constantly questioning her life choices.
Bored sexually and mildly disturbed that few of the people in her life know anything about her — Allen never remembers the college she was attending when they started dating a decade ago, and the employer she’s been with for three years congratulates her on a one-year hiring anniversary — Ann connects with new doms, each with a series of niche yet banal kinks. Eventually, she meets the caring Chris (Babak Tafti), who seems to offer a path towards a conventional and, more importantly, mutually engaged relationship.
Arnow shows a fearless vulnerability in her performance as Ann, even in the most physically and emotionally awkward situations. Ann’s detached affect belies a gentle tenacity as she steadily makes small changes to her routine and relationships to explore what she wants at this point in her life. But it’s the sharpness of the script and rhythmic precision of the editing that heralds Arnow as a major talent. Each scene ends on the exact right beat to wring out the funniest, most cringe-worthy details before plunging us back into the elliptical mundaneness of Ann’s life.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: nudity, sexual content