‘Rendezvous in Chicago’ feels like eavesdropping on clever conversations
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A Blu-Ray DVD player comes flying out of an apartment window, courtesy of an angry, about-to-be-ex-girlfriend.
“This is the year 2018, Wyatt!” she exclaims. “Who uses physical media any more?! You need to keep up with the times, m———–!”
This is just one of the sharp and funny line readings in writer-director Michael Glover Smith’s “Rendezvous in Chicago,” a quiet and yet exhilaratingly entertaining comedic drama consisting of three stand-alone vignettes taking in place in present-day Rogers Park.
In “PART 1: THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV,” a University of Chicago student named Delaney (Clare Cooney) has set up camp at a table in a wine bar on a Sunday night, focusing on her laptop and paperwork as she works on her doctoral dissertation.
Enter the cocky and talkative aspiring writer Paul (Kevin Wehby, reprising his role from Smith’s debut feature, “Cool Apocalypse”), who saunters over, Prosecco in hand, and asks if he can buy Delaney a drink.
Not that he’s hitting on her, mind you. Paul makes it clear he’d just like a few minutes of conversation.
“Would you walk into a bar and approach a MAN who was a total stranger and ask him if you could buy him a drink?” says Delaney.
Yeah Paul, you might be in over your head here.
Nevertheless, Paul sits across from Delaney, and they begin to play a game of advanced verbal tennis, which leads to, well, some intriguing and even titillating developments.
For nearly the entirety of this vignette, the actors are seated across from one another, which of course limits their choices of physicality and puts more of a demand on their respective skill sets. Cooney and Wehby are more than up to the task, subtly peeling back the layers on their respective characters as the night goes on.
‘PART II: CATS AND DOGS’
Rob (Matthew Sherbach) and Andy (Rashaad Hall) have just moved in together, and they’re still in that glowing, honeymoon phase where even their mild disputes are framed by hand-holding and kisses.
On a leisurely walk to the beach, as they debate whether to get a cat or a dog, they encounter a couple of neighbors walking their dogs — and one cat peeking out at them from a window.
Rob’s more of a dog person, while Andy prefers cats but is warming up to the idea of a dog. A small one.
One of them is thinking about proposing marriage, but can a cat person and a dog person find common ground?
Sherbach and Hall have wonderful chemistry together, creating distinct and lovable characters within the framework of a cinematic short story. My favorite moment in this vignette is when Andy speaks in glowing terms of Chicago’s beauty and the magnificence of looking out over Lake Michigan and seeing nothing but water and sky.
What better setting for two fine people to commit to each other?
‘PART III: THE END IS THE BEGINNING’
You’ll recall the flying Blu-Ray player?
Well, just a few minutes prior, Julie (Nina Ganet) has come home from work and has discovered her live-in boyfriend Wyatt (Shane Simmons) in bed with another woman (Melanie McNulty).
(Note: We first saw Ganet as Julie in Smith’s 2015 film “Cool Apocalypse,” while Simmons’ Wyatt is a carryover character from Smith’s “Mercury in Retrograde.” Worlds colliding! In a good way.)
Wyatt actually tries to tell Julie it’s not what she thinks it is, when of course it’s EXACTLY what she thinks it is.
Once the apartment is cleared out, Julie she calls a locksmith (“I have a psycho ex-boyfriend and I need [my locks] changed immediately … uh, yeah, I’ll hold”), strips the bed, marches out to the backyard and burns the sheets on the grill.
“Those were my good sheets, too,” Julie says, addressing the camera.
Julie continues to talk directly to us: confiding in us, flirting with us, saying we have a loving gaze and we make her feel appreciated …
Nina Ganet does electric work in this extended monologue. One can imagine her performing this part onstage, with an audience so riveted they’d have to remember to breathe.
Although clearly influenced by the late French filmmaker Eric Rohmer (“Rendezvous in Paris”), from the basic structure to the aspect ratio to a cameo by Rohmer muse Haydee Politoff, this is also a uniquely Chicago movie and further evidence of Smith’s original voice.
‘Rendezvous in Chicago’
Women of the Now presents a film written and directed by Michael Glover Smith. No MPAA rating. Running time: 69 minutes. Screening at 8 p.m. Friday, 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:45 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.