As an experiment in minimalism, “East of Sunset” has got its priorities tamped down perfectly. Using no more than a few locations to symbolize a world full of sparsity, this also stretches out to the characters. Carley (Emily Stiles) and Jim (Jimmy Wayne Farley) have lived out those days that require them to be the kind of people walking along the streets, worrying about family, jobs, and life in general. They’ve put themselves away from those crowds, living the days east of Sunset in Los Angeles, going through different motions. She’s in charge of classes at a junior high school when her presence is required. He bartends at the club she frequents. And they cross paths one night when she’s outside smoking a cigarette and he startles her.
So begins one of the quietest romances ever conjured up in indie film, with many complications along the way. They like each other. Somehow, some way, she’s become his muse as he’s an artist looking to make his work known. But he likes her for what she is, someone different, someone who smells a flower a different way, drinks a different way. Oh, she drinks all right. She’s not an overly ambitious boozehound but in an unnecessarily elongated sequence at the beginning, she takes out the liquor and the pills. He on the other hand is just getting over a drug habit, which threatens to kick back up violently during his relationship with her. It comes down to the matter of addiction and a loved one in how to handle it. You love the person but the addiction is even more of a lover.
In making everything sparse, with dialogue kept to a low minimum, director Brian McNelis has also taken to using early Tom Waits music sung by other musicians. The songs contribute to that dank, darker world that these characters live in. However, the world falters when it’s looked at outside of being the stimulating experiment in sparseness. For example, Carley’s sister Carrie (Lucia Sullivan) visits and in a wildly overacting manner (can those eyes get any bigger?) suggests firmly that she move on because she and her mother have already. So we’re to believe that her current attitude toward life is due to the death of her father. When it comes to Los Angeles, it’s hard to believe that only one thing affects a person. Carley and Jim’s friends (Dikla Marshall and George Garritano) are only there because it’s assumed that to watch both these main characters navigate their relationships would be boring without some kind of support. And that’s briefly true. People like these need some kind of support. But more often, they act like a barometer to the audience, on how we should be reacting to this chain of events, rather than being actual characters themselves, full flesh and blood that we can believe.
Therein lies something else. Later on towards the end of the movie, a lot transpires. Jim’s work is accepted at a New York art gallery and he has to fly over there to meet some artistic big shots and later on a dealer who has taken a huge liking to his work. With what happens after that, the minimalistic quality of this production becomes a hindrance because it’s hard to feel anything at all towards these characters that would resemble what Carley goes through. We can only watch, and never participate. “East of Sunset” makes it as a glimpse into little lives in a huge city, but is never entirely involving.