In his last film, New York Lately, director Gary King weaved his way through the lives of multiple characters living out uniquely created stories unfolding in a multitude of ways. With What's Up Lovely, King narrows the lens and intimately follows one woman, Luci (Jenn Dees), a recently unemployed insomniac who spends her nights roaming the seemingly desolate streets of New York City discovering a world she had never imagined and coming face-to-face with her urban reality and in inner enemies.
Part one of what King considers his "Loneliness Trilogy," What's Up Lovely is an uneasy, uncomfortable film that commands more than a single view to begin to appreciate the way that King and Dees work together to construct the internal and external journeys of Luci as she wanders and wonders in a New York City seldom captured onscreen.
You will not, I can only hope, be afraid of the words "uneasy" or "uncomfortable" when considering whether or not to view What's Up Lovely. The words are not meant as criticisms, instead quite the contrary.
What you see in the multiplex is, for lack of a better description, watered down and safe cinema designed to appeal to the masses at the expense of artistic integrity. What's Up Lovely is true. Real. Authentic. Living. Breathing. Cinema.
In the real world, life is seldom paint-by-numbers and certainly not at 3:00 a.m. on an inner-city street. Real life is far more experimental, a splintered fragment of a bigger picture that is sometimes impossible to re-assemble.
What's Up Lovely is experimental and imaginative, disjointed and whacked out. Just when What's Up Lovely starts making sense, it stops making sense rather abruptly.
Then, it starts again. In pieces. Abbreviated moments of clarity surrounded by an indecipherable journey.
What's Up Lovely will play most successfully for those moviegoers who embrace the challenge of having a filmmaker refuse to cater to them, but who instead caters to the characters whose lives are being brought forth. King refuses to create cohesion for a young woman whose entire existence is incohesive and, as well, Jenn Dees dives in beautifully to this young woman's fractured yet undeniably mesmerizing persona.
It is up to you and I, the film's audience, to discover what What's Up Lovely means for us individually. If you simply must be spoon-fed plot and story and a beginning and an end, then What's Up Lovely is most likely not for you.
What's Up Lovely couldn't possibly work without a central performance that remains compelling without betraying artistic integrity. Jenn Dees offers such a performance, a performance simultaneously exhilarating and deeply felt, intelligent and psychologically confounding. In a performance that must, out of necessity, balance restraint with pockets of abandon, Dees gives a wonderfully realized, enthralling portrayal of Luci's intimate yet abstract journey of discovery.
The success of What's Up Lovely is further supported by the imaginative, thematically consistent yet visually disjointed camera work of Jason Varner. While the film's transition scenes occasionally seem to linger rather pretentiously, Varner's camera work with Luci is rather remarkable in the way it follows her winding journey and the ways in which she both connects and disconnects from those around her. Similarly, Kenneth Lampl's original score is a stellar companion for Luci's journey, drawing out moments of stark intimacy and vulnerability with broader, larger than life experiences with equal zest.
A Hollywood film, quite often, invites you to observe a myriad of life experiences as they unfold on the big screen. An independent film, if it's doing what it should, transcends that wall separating the character from the audience and compels the viewer to an experiential cinematic adventure. What's Up Lovely transcends the wall separating Luci from you and I and makes us part of her richly human experience.
Seldom has being uncomfortable felt so immensely satisfying.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic