Over the past several decades, film noir has taken many forms, meshing its morally ambiguous heroes and twisty plot lines into everything from science-fiction (Blade Runner, Dark City) to stylized comic-book universes (Sin City) and even places as unlikely as the hallways of a high school (Brick).
While the genre has played out in every setting imaginable, one aspect remains unchanged: Our troubled protagonist is always a dude. In popular culture, noir themes of self-destruction and feminine betrayal have been inexorably linked to the male experience. Therefore, it’s refreshing when a film like Gemini manages to both paint noir tropes with a fresh aesthetic and mine uncharted thematic territory with its female center.
Gemini announces its seductive veneer right off the bat as Keegan DeWitt’s jazzy, trip-hop score plays over shots of the L.A. cityscape at twilight. Jill (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant and close confidant of Hollywood mega-actress Heather (Zoë Kravitz), although it’s more than hinted that their feelings for one another may extend beyond platonic. Jill’s most crucial role is to act as a proxy for any unpleasant interactions Heather may want to avoid, whether it be driving off an overzealous fan or bowing out of a movie role at the last minute.
As Jill, Kirke pulls off a performance that seems at once so effortless and magnetic you know she’s going to be swept up as the lead of some Disney-owned franchise in the next few years. In the meantime, I hope we get to see a lot more of her — and soon. This is easily one of the year’s strongest performances.
The first act is spellbinding as it establishes the relationship between Jill and Heather, who, because of the latter’s celebrity, are seemingly each other’s sole genuine friends. This section of the film deceptively appears to be setting up a moody, neon-soaked drama about fame-driven isolation, despite a threatening phone call early on that hints menace might be lurking around the corner.
Inevitably, something terrible does happen and places Jill directly in the crosshairs of a detective (a great John Cho) as a murder suspect. It’s these last two acts where the narrative morphs into a pure noir exercise, except conveyed with the chromatic color scheme of a Carly Rae Jepsen music video. Honestly, if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, it might be high time to re-evaluate your film priorities. Nearly every beat staple is dutifully hit here: wrongful accusations, double-crosses, femme fatales, con artist schemes.
Oddly enough, Gemini becomes somewhat less engaging once it swerves into thriller territory. The earlier scenes, with their dream-like quality and meditative pauses between dialogue, are mesmerizing in the same way those early scenes in Drive are. The only substantial complaint I can lob against the film is that once the story mechanics kick in, it isn’t too difficult for those familiar with noir to see where things are headed.
Writer / director Aaron Katz got his start in the mumblecore scene along with contemporaries like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers. His 2007 effort Quiet City remains one of the subgenre’s crowning achievements, and Gemini certainly possesses the breezy, unhurried feel of that film. Of course, the mumblecore movement has diminished considerably in the past several years. With unique takes on well-worn genres like his latest, audiences would be wise to help keep Katz’s career from doing the same.