Alex Karpovsky isn’t just appearing in Supporting Characters during the Tribeca Film Festival (check out my review here!), he also co-wrote, directed and stars in Rubberneck, a psychological thriller “based on true events” (though since I couldn’t find anything on the “real-life” story, I suspect that it is “based on true events” the same way Fargo is). While Karpovsky is great in both films, Rubberneck is wholly the more effective and original film, making it the far more impressive role for him.
Paul (Karpovsky) is an awkward Boston-area scientist who does what most single men would do at a boring company Christmas party — find the most beautiful woman at the party and start talking to her. Remarkably it works, and Paul and the woman, Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman), spend the night together. However, after they see a movie the next night Danielle turns him down for dinner, though Paul is very pushy and clearly feels dejected. Months later Paul continues to obsess over Danielle though it’s obvious that she has no interest in him beyond the one night stand. He begins to get even more jealous and possessive when a younger, better-looking scientist, Chris (Dennis Staroselsky) begins working at their lab and has instant rapport with Danielle.
There are a lot of clever bits thrown into this film that grabbed me. First, the movie jumps “Eight Months Later” after Paul and Danielle’s one night stand, so naturally most would assume she was pregnant — after all, that’s what most movies do. Continuing with the misdirection, Karpovsky even hides Danielle under her baggy lab coat for the first few scenes until she finally removes it and shows she is as thin as she was months earlier. It’s an effective twist that really highlights Paul’s obsession. Another clever bit is how we learn Chris is married — instead of typically resorting to exposition, Chris is shown writing his wife’s information down on his emergency contact form as he is hired. Yet another is when Paul notices Chris and Danielle have a conversation in the kitchen, and he comes in, interrupts, and eats only until he has broken up the conversation. These are great little touches that more-or-less call out to the regular movie fan who have seen similar movies before, so these clever bits are appreciated.
There are also several smart character bits that add so much to the film. In one of the few scenes that isn’t from Paul’s perspective, Chris looks at his wife, Marsha (Marianna Bassham), as she walks around their home in her underwear. She is attractive, but even in her underwear she isn’t shown in the most flattering light or circumstances, so the audience can see why he would be tempted by the much more attractive Danielle. Again, it’s another clever visual bit that Karpovsky works in. It’s obvious that he understands that the audience is intelligent.
Paul is a fascinating character, and Karpovsky made a brave move by choosing to play him. Paul, as other characters point out, lacks confidence, and nearly every choice he makes is the cowardly one. He also suffers from almost violent panic attacks when he doesn’t get his way. Though he’s obsessive, he doesn’t exhibit stalker behavior since he mostly just lurks around Danielle and stares at her a little too long as she passes by. So he doesn’t appear to be the dangerous type at first, but as the move goes on it is clear that he is the proverbial powder keg. There are hints that this all results from something more than the personality of the timid scientist, and, as usual, there’s something in Paul’s past that helps explain his behavior.
The film does drag a bit in the twenty or so minutes preceding the final scene. Without giving too much away, at that point Paul is trying to decide his next move but sequences that should move faster to heighten the tension are instead slow paced. This is one aspect of the film in which Karpovsky should have stuck with conventions to move the plot along. This is an example of a film that even at 83 minutes is a bit too long even though there aren’t any unnecessary sequences or scenes that should have been added. Lesser directors might have unnecessarily pushed this story to a much longer runtime with unnecessary sequences. Yet even at 83 minutes some trimming is warranted in these later scenes to tighten up what is already a tightly-edited film. Nonetheless, Karpovsky has definitely made a film worth noticing here, and Rubberneck makes its mark on the psychological thriller genre.
Rating: One of the most clever psychological thrillers I’ve seen and accomplishes more in its 83 minutes than many filmmakers do in 120 because of its effective and inventive touches (8/10).
Tribeca Film Festival Screening Times
Saturday, April 28 2:30PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 4