New York City has a certain power about it. As a cinematic landscape, it brims with a potentiality that can be harnessed in limitless directions. With his first feature, Pratfall, writer-director Alex Andre has created a film that exists at the crossroads of Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. It’s a film that explores, through its characters, the very nature of that chaotic yet bountiful New York potential. And while the drama does not make the most of its ideas or source, it is a daring piece that maintains all the requisite vitality and immediacy to warrant notice.
Pratfall follows the eccentric Eli (Joshua Burge), a quintessential city slicker plagued by insomnia. While wandering Central Park one day, he comes across the airy Joelle (Chloé Groussard), a French tourist with her own set of troubles. Despite an idiosyncratic first meeting, the two resolve to traverse the city together, taking in the sights as well as searching for answers to unasked existential questions.
“…resolve to traverse New York together…searching for answers to unasked existential questions.”
Foremost, Burge is a remarkable selection as Eli. His piercing eyes and elongated face are intensely emotive — almost resembling a Frenchman himself — while his voice and mannerisms all perfectly drive the part of a mentally overloaded New Yorker. Conversely, Groussard’s Joelle acts as the perfect foil to Eli. The naturalness of her style and the grace of her motion help accentuate Eli’s neuroticism while also highlighting her character as a hopeful beacon in the context of New York and its denizens. Eli and Joelle’s personalities, discordant in unique ways, create an oddly accessible intrigue. Undoubtedly, the pair represent the film’s strongest aspect, reflecting the charisma that everyday people possess but often veil for fear of social rejection.
However, though the lead actor and actress have quantifiable charm, the deconstructionist narrative and tone are elemental to a fault. While Andre flawlessly captures the visual emotion of New York, he makes little of it. Vertiginous shots of skyscrapers and nervously intimate close-ups render the city as both a place of dreams as well as nightmares, but no discernible voice is offered to help guide the viewer through the urban malaise. Certainly, moments provide glimpses of a grander, more contemplative vision, but Pratfall retreats into familiar territory too often. Given its nearly two-hour runtime, this begins to feel tiring. The loose plotting is amplified when the film reaches a refreshingly unexpected and unearned climax.
Still, at the heart of Pratfall dwells a verve that is true to life. It has a way of showcasing reality in the littlest of foibles. Andre’s conception of the Big Apple, of those inhabiting it and visiting it, is, in turn, brooding and buoyant, seedy and divine. And yet, as transporting as the film can be, and as stirring as Eli and Joelle assuredly are, it is only unfortunate that the filmmaker does not combine these base cinematic elements into a fuller and more novel imagining of a city that has been reimagined so many times before.
"…at the heart of Pratfall dwells a verve that is true to life."