Stop me if you’ve heard the one about the group of New York twentysomethings – two girls and a guy, or maybe two guys and a girl, or even two guys and two girls – who look for love in all the wrong places, but somehow end up getting it right. It’s the one with the brooding guy who can’t grow up, the sensible girl who’s foxy, the kooky girl who’s foxier still. It’s all very 1993.
Given that Austin Chick’s “XX/XY” actually begins in 1993 – with the above character archetypes drinking and screwing in a vaguely collegiate haze – it’s a safe bet that Chick is conversant with “Reality Bites,” “Singles,” “Bodies, Rest and Motion” and other timeless classics of Gen X cinema. But he does an admirable job of freshening up the familiar, starting us off with the Breeders’ “Cannonball” and, by the film’s messy denouement, dragging us right into dread adulthood. Like, early-to-mid-thirties adulthood.
When Coles, an aspiring animator played by the divinely shambolic Mark Ruffalo, drifts into a Sarah Lawrence party and happens upon the imposingly put-together Sam (Maya Stange), it’s clear things are destined to happen. But even more is in store when sexaholic punkette Thea (Kathleen Robertson) happens upon Coles and Sam. All three end up in bed together. From here on, Chick compacts the first act of “XX/XY” into a continuous montage of parties, sexual shenanigans, confrontations and recriminations. It doesn’t end well for the trio, and all three young lovers are left hanging.
Flash forward the present. Coles is now a successful advertising artist, with a spectacular apartment and a loving girlfriend (the elegant Petra Wright). Thea is married and managing a hip downtown restaurant. And Sam…well, Sam is back in New York, where she will duly run into Coles and make sure his life once again becomes gruesomely complicated. The nine years apart have done little to dim the passion between them.
It may appear clichéd in the telling, but Chick has no use for the glib irony and rampant pop-culture sampling which has already dated “Reality Bites” and its ilk. We grow to genuinely care about the people of “XX/XY,” and their romantic troubles are portrayed with a refreshing, open honesty. The incisive acting of Ruffalo, Robertson and Stange convincingly makes the point that these still-young males and females are just as stunted and confused as the rest of us. While “XX/XY” starts in comfortingly familiar territory of youthful follies, Chick has the confidence to push on and navigate the uncharted waters of burgeoning middle age. Anyone who’s made it there knows what a scary place it can be.