03 September 2015

Queen of Earth, A Hipster Movie

Queen of Earth
Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry
Full credits at IMDb

The defining aesthetic of the hipster is the cooption of what’s come before, whether it’s their parents' suburban kitsch or fringed leather, Ray-bans, whatever. They have no culture of their own, which is why they can be vegans or barbecue fanatics, long-haired or short-, hip-hop or classic rock, a mashup of everything or anything. In that regard, and I don’t mean this with easy dismissal, Queen of Earth feels like intrinsically hipster cinema: it puts a modern spin on old tropes without quite changing them—that is, it looks a little different, but doesn’t say anything too different.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it before. I mean, a few influences conspicuously pervade Queen of Earth: Persona, with two women of contrasting hair hues spending time together at a remote lakeside home; and Repulsion, with a woman’s unraveling sanity and the blurring of the lines between reality and nightmare. But, no, I mean literally, too. Is the shot of the ceiling fan just too Twin Peaks? Is Keegan DeWitt’s truly creepy score just too Anton Webern? Is there something about the camerawork that too closely follows Martha Marcy May Marlene's? (Or am I thinking of Silent House?)

At a certain point, I gave up. Perry’s influences are all over his fourth feature, not obscured at all, but the movie doesn’t necessarily feel derivative—at least, not tiresomely. It’s exciting: the mood he sustains with music, and Sean Price Williams's camera movement and composition, is compelling, but mostly it’s the actors, by which I really just mean the lead, Elisabeth Moss. (Everyone else is fine, but they feel like planets revolving around her star.)

While her former costars Jon Hamm and John Slattery have used their newfound superstardom post-Mad Men to goof off in silly comedies (most recently in the Wet Hot American Summer prequel, not that there’s anything wrong with that), Moss has spent it performing stripped-down on Broadway or in experimental indie fare like this, Listen Up Philip, The One I Love, becoming her old cast’s most Serious Performer. She’s riveting here, and Perry likes to let the camera move in close to her face to watch. She’s the least hipster thing about the movie: it doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it before, and definitely not in this way. It has the legitimate excitement of the new.