I tried to catch Wild Canaries when it premiered at SXSW, and now the fresh reviews coming in make me even more sorry that I missed it. It screens on Friday at BAMcinemaFest, and when Nick Pinkerton (via Critics Round Up) caught it at the Maryland Film Festival, he noted in a dispatch to Artforum that it was the “big crowd-pleaser… a neo-screwball bauble concerning a couple (writer/director Levine and his wife/collaborator Sophia Takal) who look into strange goings-on in their Brooklyn triple-decker and become embroiled in a convoluted murder mystery, their investigation further complicated by a four-way romantic tangle involving his ex- (Eleonore Hendricks) and their lesbian roommate (Alia Shawkat). Levine’s film owes an obvious debt to Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), but it boasts considerably better timing and more worked-out set-pieces than any Allen comedy in the past decade.”
For the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, “Levine and Takal’s homemade performances and real-life romance are the core of the story. The tightly wound script conjures a classic-Hollywood tone, as does the precisely timed comic direction of two local romantics who bring grand screwball fantasies to life.”
“The joke at the heart of Wild Canaries is that it’s easier to solve crimes than relationship problems,” writes Calum Marsh in the Voice. “If this were the 1930s, the world would soon be clamoring for these two to star together in another picture. The least we can hope for is a sequel.”
But at the House Next Door, Nick McCarthy is not won over: “Despite its more farcical and anachronistic attributes, the film ultimately takes the form of a rather incohesive outline; it’s a collection of affectations and misguided, stop-and-go subplots (the worst involving inchoate sexual infidelities and repetitiously bickering couples) that never coalesces into a coherent, satisfying whole.”
For Variety‘s Justin Chang, “this craftily structured yet playfully loose-limbed detective yarn provides a canny narrative template for another of the writer-director’s low-budget studies of relational turmoil (following 2011’s Gabi on the Roof in July), its occasional descent into shrill bickering largely offset by the filmmakers’ palpable delight in their choice of material.”
At Indiewire, Eric Kohn gives Wild Canaries a B: “If the Scooby-Doo gang grew up and moved into a cramped Manhattan apartment building, they might resemble the oddball characters populating director Lawrence Michael Levine’s bubbly murder mystery, in which the ultimate solution to the whodunit scenario matters less than the wily energy its characters bring to uncovering the puzzle.”
A B- from Katie Walsh at the Playlist, who finds it “a mixed bag, to be honest.” And in the Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore finds that “neither comedy nor suspense really takes flight until very near the end, largely due to a script that isn’t equal to the filmmakers’ enthusiasm.”
Update, 6/19: At the Talkhouse Film, Levine discusses Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition, while, for Brooklyn Magazine, Henry Stewart interviews Levine and Takal.
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