Jennifer Elster’s debut film looks at love and neuroses realistically
In her debut feature, director Jennifer Elster uses New York’s anonymous corners, stoops and scaffoldings to help create an appropriate backdrop for the neuroses she explores. “Particles of Truth” is a story that looks at several disturbed individuals, but centers primarily on a would-be couple, Lilli and Morrison.
The film takes place over the course of 48 hours and opens with several disjointed scenes labeled “today” and “tomorrow” that seem to be going nowhere, before settling into the story. Lilli (played by Elster herself) is an artist nervous about her upcoming gallery opening who meets Morrison (played with scruffy stubble by “Queer as Folk” star Gale Harold) by chance on the street. Morrison is germ-phobic and appears to live his entire life out of his SUV. The two are attracted to one another and over the course of two days make several attempts to set aside their considerable baggage and make a real connection.
Lilli’s character is the best developed in the film, with flashbacks to her childhood. “I was the product of two 16-year-old degenerates,” she says, as we see her as a youngster dealing with drug addict parents. Her mother (Susan Floyd) sleeps with her father’s best friend, who died choking on his own vomit post-coitus right in front of the child Lilli. Her father (Alan Samulski) is no better, but is at least charming and, when he’s not drugged out, offers Lilli some measure of parental approval.
Morrison, who has just published his first book, comes from a more economically secure, but no healthier background, with a mother who takes a backseat to his egomaniacal father (Larry Pine). Morrison’s father wouldn’t deign to read his son’s book, but is obsessed with how much he will earn per copy. His mother (Leslie Lyles) is oblivious to the drama of a son vainly trying to win his father’s approval. When he is not withholding, Morrison’s father is typically impotent in his life.
The film’s best parts involve the efforts by Lilli and Morrison to achieve intimacy. In addition to their families, the film has other neurotic characters, whose stories are told with varying degrees of success. The dramatic tension climaxes in a scene where Will (Richard Wilkinson), the angry ex of Lilli’s roommate Flora, attacks Lilli in a seedy bar where they are arguing, dragging her into the “fuck room.”
The film nicely captures the randomness of New York encounters, and grounds the action in an edgy urban reality. As Lilli, Elster covers the most ground, from Harlem to Soho and Tribeca, and becomes a natural extension of the city. For fans of “Queer as Folk,” Harold’s turn here is the complete inverse of his TV character’s cocky, confident bravado. Elster sticks with anonymous New York landscapes that give the city as well as the film’s other characters their universal appeal.
“Particles of Truth” strikes realistic chord notes in portraying New Yorkers who are lonely, but also too scared or contemptuous of others to want to connect with people. But, in the end, the film’s message is that hope endures, despite the enormous issues people have. The urge to be someone special even to just one other person is strong.
“Particles of Truth” gives us a romance, a real romance, which means this is no Hollywood blockbuster. Real-life romances are difficult, and there’s plenty of nonsense that gets in the way. In her first outing, Elster does a great job of conveying this message, using the “mean streets” of New York to their full effect.