If nothing else, Jay DiPietro’s non-linear love story Peter and Vandy (taglined as “a love story told out of order” as if you may not notice the shifting timeline) is an interesting, if not wholly original, experiment in filmmaking. Unfortunately, as it made its debut within 24 hours of Marc Webb’s equally non-linear (500) Days of Summer (at this year’s Sundance Film Festival), many tossed this movie off as a low rent copy of Webb’s film. Of course, such a thing is not the case. DiPietro adapted his own play, from 2002, into this film, so if anything, his was the first out of the proverbial gate. This little nugget of truth doesn’t change the fact that Peter and Vandy is pretty much a low-rent something-or-other – though it is still probably somewhat superior to the aforementioned (500) Days.
Starring Jason Ritter (best known as being the son of the late John Ritter) and Jess Weixler (best known for having the hoo-hoo with an eating disorder in the subversively suburban Teeth!) as the titular couple, Peter and Vandy, though at times dry and listless, is not without its high points. Or should I say medium points? To illustrate, one need look no further than the centerpiece of sorts to this disintegrating relationship fable. For those of you scoring at home, that would be the PB&J argument. The PB&J argument, wherein Peter unleashes his pent up anger at Vandy for not making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to his exacting standards is the chewy emotional center of DiPietro’s film. It is in the PB&J argument where we see all aspects of the relationship come together in a supernova of sorts. Pointless in a way perhaps, but one can surely see the absurdist comedy-cum-tragedy in such a scene – can one not?
At this point it may seem as if I have some sort of vested interest in this film – an associate producer credit perhaps, or maybe I was just inundated with junket swag – and therefore have decided to take it upon myself to become its champion. Not true of course, but I do seem to be one of the very few critics who have not totally dismissed this film right off the cinematic radar. All snarky championing aside, Peter and Vandy is a well-constructed, well acted film. Ritter and Weixler are tragically sublime as the young couple coming together and falling apart and coming together and falling apart and coming together. Their melange of sweet bitterness and salty tenderness acts as a catalyst for what makes their in-movie relationship seem all the more real. We have all had that PB&J argument (or something akin to it) at least once in our past and/or present relationships and therefore can see ourselves in the crackling desperation of both Peter and Vandy.
True, the film tends to get tired a bit too often – and may seem a low-rent something-or-other – but its blend of humanistic acting and subtly warm photography against an extremely chilly backdrop – both literally and figuratively – make for a film that reaches higher than anyone would ever think it could. To harken once more back to its Sundance cohort, this is a much rawer, much more intimate portrayal of the ubiquitous relationship than (500) Days could ever dream of being. That film had its cute, hip thing going rather nicely for it, but it never reaches the ugly depths this film can sink to in showing the heartache of love. In sum, Peter and Vandy is a bare-bones, emotionally true, down-to-the-core relationship movie far removed from the candy-coated non-reality of what passes for romantic melodrama in Hollywood today – and that is more than enough for this critic.