There’s a trope in storytelling about the nosey neighbor, the one who’s always at their window or peephole, lurking around, trying to know everything about everyone all the time. This person who folks don’t like because they are forcing themselves into situations that they, likely, don’t belong. Then there’s the other side of being a neighbor: when you know *everything* that’s going on and you don’t have a desire to. Living in the DMV area during grad school, my now-wife/then-girlfriend and I dealt with late night partiers keeping us up on weekends, cigarette smoke bleeding through our closet walls, bass rumbling from beneath our feet, and, everyone’s favorite, loud sex. Us being us, we wished the best for all parties to arrive at their destination with glee, but also with haste so that we could get back to doing what we were doing (usually trying to sleep). This last part of communal living takes the center space of director Mike Donahue’s award-winning Troy, set to screen during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s Short Film Program 2 section. In a tight 16 minutes, Donahue and screenwriter Jen Silverman invite the audience to experience what it’s like to live next to such an intrusive neighbor, deftly exploring the ways in which people find themselves invested in those they don’t know.
Couple Thea and Charlie (Adina Verson and Michael Braun) live rather normal lives in New York City. They make and consume meals quietly on their couch while watching a program, they host family and friends, and they generally exist in an average day-in/day-out way. The biggest difference between them and everyone else is their neighbor Troy (Florian Klein) who seems to be having very loud sex all day and all night. What starts as something that bothers the couple takes a turn as they find themselves embroiled in unexpected drama.
Before the puritanical come for Troy, this short is more hear than show. Sex is a significant focal point, but it’s not *the* point and therefore is not shown. Instead, what Silverman and Donahue explore is intimacy and the varying shades that accompany it. There’s intimacy within what someone considers their private space. Thea and Charlie begin the story, as much anyone would, struggling to come to terms with the breach of their respective private space as the moans and groans of a string of partners sonically assault them at all hours. There’s also a sense that intimacy between two people is entirely normal, even if one doesn’t want to hear what their neighbors are doing, it can, within a certain context, rev one’s own engine, reminding that we’re each human and are in need of connection. So there’s the personal exploration, there’s the interpersonal between a couple, and then it breaches outward into the intimate relationship between neighbors and the responsibility this relationship carries. Without getting into spoilers, though the situation is mined for laughs, there’s not only real tenderness in the performances from Verson and Braun, but the script allows for an examination of what really matters: how we treat our neighbors.
All of Troy is one-sided with everything we learn being mostly second-hand, yet Silverman and Donahue ensure that we, along with Thea and Charlie, come to envision Troy as more flesh and bone…in more than one way…more than someone with a gifted pelvis and a penchant for pleasure. This matters because the heart of the film resides in Thea and Charlie moving away from Troy as an annoyance and toward him being part of their relationship. This isn’t meant literally so much as the way in which communal living, when things are in balance, inspires a sense that each person is responsible for the other. We recognize that the things that annoy us are just one part of what makes up a person and that we, ourselves, possess faults, that others must put up with. Sex is a part of life (an is a major part relationships for many) and the stigmatizing of it helps no one and hurts us all by creating shame. Instead, the narrative asks the audience to consider where the line is between annoyance and aggravation and what they would do before recognizing the humanity of all things. For instance, while there was nothing we could do about the smoke smell filling out closet, we could at least (Crystal and I) clap when our upstairs neighbor finished getting it on. We could joke about the massage we would receive when our downstairs neighbor would blare R&B early on a Saturday. When it all stopped, we would sometimes wonder what happened to them (elated at the peace and quiet or ability to sleep sure), but there would be a moment of concern as someone we tangentially knew left our sphere. Especially when living in urban environments, getting to know your neighbors isn’t always friendly or social, but it’s always intimate. In this regard, Troy reminds us of our responsibility to be good neighbors, not by keeping figurative fences or by keeping the volume low, but by acknowledging that we’re each at the center of our own stories.
Tender and sweet, but, more importantly, kind, Troy is a rich and complex journey in brief. It’s a story that begins with aggravation at the rupture of privacy that then explores the social bonds of community. It’s sex positive without being exploitive, it’s hilarious without reduction, and it’s kind. It’s kind because it never forgets that Thea, Charlie, and Troy are worthy humans. Yes, there’s a collection of famous faces that do appear (Dylan Baker and Dana Delaney being two of them), yet none so much overshadow the focus as they do provide a reason to lean in just a little more. With luck, the prospect of titillation Troy offers will get audiences to pay attention, allowing them to be open just enough to consider the thoughtfulness that resides within.
Screening during Sundance Film Festival 2023.
For more information, head to the official Troy Sundance Film Festival webpage.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.