The low-budget drama Gemini (which is currently playing at the Arclight and the AMC River East) is a 93-minute wisp of a movie that doesn’t seem to unfold so much as evaporate. Writer-director Aaron Katz (Quiet City, Cold Weather) establishes up some plausible relationships and a fairly grounded sense of place; he also makes a half-hearted attempt at telling a mystery story. But the mood is so languid that it overwhelms anything else—aiming for a tone poem on the emptiness of fame a la Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere or The Bling Ring, Katz just delivers emptiness. Still, I’m glad the movie exists; I’d sooner watch an honest and sensitive failure than a cynical and calculated one like Eli Roth’s recent Death Wish remake.
Gemini devotes its first half-hour to observing the relationship between a movie star, Heather (Zoë Kravitz), and her personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke). The two act like best friends even though Heather is paying Jill to be around. Katz zeroes in on their unspoken power dynamic in the opening scene when Heather sends Jill into a restaurant to meet with a film director she doesn’t want to see. Heather is too passive-aggressive to tell the director herself that she no longer wants to act in his movie, despite having more or less promised that she would. Heather joins Jill in the restaurant after the director leaves in a huff, and the women have a strange encounter with an obsessed fan who looks suspiciously like Heather. Katz belabors the scene, showing the fan post pictures of herself with Heather to Instagram as if this were some revelation about the zeitgeist.
The observations remain around this level, as Heather and Jill spend the night talking about Seventeen magazine, singing karaoke in the K-Town neighborhood of Los Angeles, and avoiding the paparazzi. (James Ransone turns up as a tabloid photographer, and as always he injects the movie with a sense of unpredictability; too bad Katz uses him for only a few scenes.) I couldn’t help but think of Olivier Assayas’s recent Clouds of Sils Maria, which also used the relationship between an actress and her personal assistant to consider contemporary culture. But where Assayas probed the tensions between high and low art as well as the emotional satisfaction provided by each, Katz remains fixed on the surfaces of things. Kravitz and Kirke are enjoyable, but neither comes across as particularly deep. Heather expresses a self-negating desire to stop acting and “do nothing,” but her longing—which should provide the movie with a sense of mystery and emotional resonance—comes across as mere petulance.
In another scene that feels irritatingly lightweight, Heather asks Jill if she can borrow her gun. Jill is surprised by the request; she’d thought she had kept the gun a secret. But she lends the weapon anyway, understanding that Heather feels afraid by threats she’s recently received from her ex-boyfriend. (Also, who knows what crazy fans are capable of doing?) The dramatic developments come between lengthy scenes of the characters just hanging out—which, given the familiarity of the milieu and upper-class malaise, aren’t very interesting. The main characters pick up Heather’s new girlfriend Tracy (Greta Lee), and the women idle away some more time. Despite the not-bad cinematography and Keegan DeWitt’s evocative score, Katz doesn’t conjure up a strong enough mood to inspire more than a cursory interest in what happens.
The next morning, Jill arrives at Heather’s home and finds the actress dead—shot with Jill’s gun. The police arrive and immediately treat Jill with suspicion. John Cho, playing a sensitive chief detective, plays nicely off Kirke in an interrogation scene that doubles as a bit of character development. He asks Jill what she wanted to do when she was a teenager. (“You didn’t always want to become a personal assistant, did you?”) It’s a reminder that Jill’s identity had been defined by her connection to someone else. With Heather dead, Jill isn’t just out of a job—she has to redefine who she is. Jill decides to put off this personal reckoning by investigating who killed Heather so she can clear her name.
Katz fails to generate much suspense from the mystery; rather, he carries over the moody inertia of the movie’s first act to the rest of the story. As a result Jill’s investigation never develops any sense of urgency. This makes Gemini feel like the first draft of a movie that could have been developed into something more resonant.