By Elias Savada.
There have been plenty of movies that have skewered the sunbaked air of Los Angeles and the strange people who breathe it – Mick Jackson’s L.A. Story and Robert Altman’s The Player remain two of my favorites – but folks, if you find somewhere showing writer-director Alex Goldberg’s Closure following its world premiere at the DC Independent Film Festival on February 17th, you might want to catch this whimsical gem – and make room for its sardonically witty fish-out-of-Midwestern-water tale on the Hollywood-as-another-planet list. Even without the star-power of Steve Martin or Tim Robbins, Closure – Goldberg’s second feature as director, after the little seen 2003 comedy Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow – embraces the wacky Angelino lifestyle with a well selected cast of friends and family, and a well-disciplined screenplay that grabs you right of the gate at LAX, where star Catia Ojeda (also Goldberg’s spouse and muse) crashes into an alien landscape populated with oil derricks, dinosaurs, traffic (naturally), friendly-angry drivers, and a heavy dose of light-hearted dread.
As Nina, a 30-something taking a break from selling insurance in Kansas, Ojeda is in every scene in this tight, 90-minute examination of the superficiality of Los Angeles. Her low-key, gung-ho performance is a study of her character’s wide-eyed resourcefulness and focused determination, although her journey throughout La La Land, in search of her estranged sister, Carrie, offers a remarkably refreshing role to bolster her resume. If you recognize her at all, it’s probably for her recurring role in the Amazon Studios family fantasy series Just Add Magic. Co-stars Dee Wallace and Ellen Karsten also appear on that show.
Her wanderings around town take her to various “last known” whereabouts of her sister, and locals who know Carrie (but not where she currently is) often mistake Nina for her sibling – a lightly played running gag. Among the ditsy folks who cross her path, first is Carrie’s Valley Girl roommate Yasmina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, a.k.a. Nadine Memphis on the USA Network series Shooter), a transcendent, New Age spirit who works as a dental hygienist…and a nude model. Their weird meet-and-greet offers up the bright, comic dialogue that Goldberg sprinkles throughout the film. He seems to have some interesting words for most of the cast, including Carrie’s polyamorous neighbors, writer Jack (John Sloan) and his food-blogging wife Prudence (Milena Govich), “proud members of the calorie restriction society.” Well, maybe she is, and maybe he’s not – to both the sexual and food proclivities. Even the police have their quirks, as evidenced by odd couple Detectives Franklin (James Andrew Walsh) and O’Leary (Michael McCartney), who reluctantly agree to help the out-of-towner.
As Closure blossoms into a grown-up Nancy Drew detective yarn, Nina sniffs about for clues among the fringes of the city, first at a club where Carrie worked on her relationships, and then into the darker side of the naked city. Nina doesn’t let California phase her, even after her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you-know-your-not-in-fucking-Kansas self manages to follow the yellow brick road into some nasty situations.
Aptly titled, Closure ends with just that, although in a very different way than you would expect. It’s still completely gratifying.
Whether poking fun at various social anxieties, which seem to affect anyone walking the streets of the city, or playing up the awkward comic moments that surround Nina’s extended romantic encounter with a real, sorta-solid guy (Tom Choi), Goldberg sets a fine tone to this dark comedy. Having toiled as a production assistant, actor, writer (and prolific playwright), he prepped his film – shot on a nano-budget over just 12 days – well. If you know the L.A. scene (Goldberg was actually born and raised in Washington DC and Northern Virginia), it’s easy to pepper anything about the area with frothy dialogue. I’ve always called L.A. “the other planet,” and if you’re from anywhere else in the world, watching Closure captures its zany eccentricities with a seriously comic cadence.
In the strange world of Hollywood distribution, there’s no telling when (not if) Closure will drop into an area theater or on a streaming service. In the meanwhile, you can read more about the film’s five-year journey on Goldberg’s blog here.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2018 by Centipede Press).