Feature debuts are a chance for any filmmaker to make an impression and to present audiences with a viewpoint perhaps unseen before. Folks, Christian Papierniak’s rock-infused dramedy Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town does all that and a little more. Often feeling like a modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol mixed with the unfettered momentum of Run Lola Run, Izzy’s bold, brash, and filled with gnarly people doing gnarly things. So if you like your romance a little bit on the nasty side, you’re going to want to find out if Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town.
Rock star washout Izzy (Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis) wakes up hungover as hell next to a dude she doesn’t know in a house somewhere around Los Angeles. This she can handle in stride, but what she can’t abide is the discovery that her ex is engaged and the party’s that night. Broke, battling a raging headache, and without transport, Izzy must endure flakey friends, random crazies, estranged family, and more just for the chance to achieve her destiny…if she can just make it across town in time.
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat – the “rock n’ roll” vibe of Izzy is far more than set dressing. That vibe drips from every aspect of the film from the hyper-saturated coloring featured in the dream state prologue, to the fast cuts intermixed with split-screen editing to denote Izzy’s hurried state, and to the costumes and set design exuding a derelict, yet appreciated veneer. All of these elements work in tandem to cultivate a hurricane of femme rock badassery, which coalesces around our abrasive, messy heroine Izzy. Most impressively, like a great album that has to be experienced top-to-bottom, the story of Izzy is broken into ten “tracks”, each of varying length and style, telling Izzy’s story of love-lost and love-regained. Beautifully, Papierniak seems fully aware of audience’s expectations, so while there’re some twists that the audience may predict, the resolution is not only unique to folks expecting a pop rom-com ending, but it feels undeniably earned, making it all the more satisfying.
Like any good album, the melody might hook you, but it’s the lyrics and orchestration that really pull in the audience. Represented here by a cadre of talent, they fill the space of each “track” with their energy, often out of tune with Izzy’s headspace, and still manage to create evocative harmony. In the opening sequence post-dream, Izzy wakes next to George (Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield), whom we discover is both a highly trained pilot and inquisitive man which contrasts against Izzy’s disoriented, manic energy. On the move for transport, she visits Walt (Haley Joel Osment), a man in love with the idea of love, yet bears none of the conviction to either break up with his girlfriend or proclaim his love to the women he went on one date with the night before, the one unconscious in his living room. Like Izzy, Walt longs for love, but fails to communicate it properly. As this track ends, the girl, Agatha (Alia Shawkat), wakes, offering Izzy a ride to her destination. What seems like a Top 40 hits quickly turns into trip-hop as they discuss the merits of fate vs. free will while Agatha breaks into her boyfriend’s house. Here, Izzy stands her philosophical ground against Agatha, defending the glorious purpose of fate as it intersects with personal action. It’s a fantastic scene for both actresses, featuring some of the longest stretches of dialogue in the film. If this track addresses the philosophy of Izzy, the track after featuring Annie Potts as semi-shut-in Mary, is the emotional heart. After stumbling upon a box of memories, Izzy tries to return it to Mary, yet Mary’s reluctant to accept it. Why? Because the memories are a moment in time that left her stuck in the past – a continual undercurrent throughout Izzy that our heroine can’t seem to navigate. While a track-by-track analysis befitting a music review would suit Izzy just as well, these few examples highlight Papierniak’s commitment to Izzy’s musical vibe as more than garnish, but as fully-formed thematic connections.
Discussing Izzy can’t be done without mentioning the wonder that is Mackenzie Davis. Some know her from her work on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, the rom-com That Awkward Moment, or her small, but effectual role in Blade Runner 2049. However you know her, Izzy feels like the first time audiences will truly appreciate her great work. Through choices physical and verbal, we can see every burden pulling her down and the clarity of acceptance lift her up. In one scene, she and her sister Virginia (played with such vigorous venom by Carrie Coon) sing a song together at the insistence of Virginia’s husband. As the camera switched back and forth in close-up of each sisters face, independent from the lyrics of the song, each actress conveys what could be years’ worth of tension and conflict between them, only to find peace by the end of the number. If this performance doesn’t put Davis on audience’s radar, it’s unclear what will.
There’s a lot to dig about Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town and you have to be willing to think of its pieces as individual tracks of a larger album. Each encompass a different mood or viewpoint that Izzy herself must confront, even if it’s herself that’s in her way from achieving her destiny. This means the audience must, first, be ok watching folks not being their best selves (a source of some great comedic moments, to be sure), and, second, acknowledge that each track is its own story. This is a difficult task to pull off, and when it works, it works really well. By and large, audiences are going to dig Izzy’s messy life with all of its dysfunction and will root for the heroine to grasp her destiny and make it manifest.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.