RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO— 4 STARS
Making its hometown debut as part of the fifth annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival, Rendezvous in Chicago showcases the expansive craft and creativity brimming from Chicago filmmaker Michael Glover Smith. His third feature film channels Éric Rohmer to present three collisions of love occurring in the writer-director’s own beloved Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Smith’s canny talent to pen and juggle a triptych is not what impresses the most. Rather, what is greater, quite simply, is his sense of feel as a storyteller and filmmaker.
That personal palpation starts with the setting of Rendezvous in Chicago. Anywhere you turn in any given community, one can find an array of vibrant humanity. Smith is no visitor. To borrow a popular political idiom, Michael Glover Smith has his finger on the pulse of this community. Each of the three story chapters glow with the many tints of diversity and affluence in Rogers Park. The vibes of every talk and every walk feel genuine and absorbing.
The romantic encounters begin like many good yarns do: in a bar. Bespectacled University of Chicago doctoral student Delaney (Clare Cooney) is trying to put the finishing touches on some Dostoevsky research over a glass of wine in the dining room of an empty local pub on a Sunday night. In walks the loquacious and overconfident writer Paul (Kevin Wehby). Striding over with his pretentious prosecco, Paul shoots his pick-up artist game only to find himself mentally outmatched by the coy brunette in a unique and titillating game of strip trivia.
LESSON #1: THE POINT IS TO LOOK — With this hot line dropped by Clare Cooney, the evening escapade becomes a tournament of perception. Paul’s gaze is superficial and Delaney’s is analytical. She sees through him and he falls for looking to lightly. The result is more exposure than just skin. Kevin Wehby dangles like a fish on Clare Cooney’s hook through all their snappy banter paced by the ambient electronica music of Anaphalyxsis (Jason Coffman).
Midnight trades for morning as a beautiful summer day transitions to open on the dog-loving Rob (Matthew Scherbach). The genteel man’s heart is a flutter at the prospect of spending some quality time with his boyfriend Andy (Rashaad Hall). After all, Rob has a very important question he would like to ask his beau. The two stroll with whimsy comparing life notes and sidewalk dog encounters before the big moment.
LESSON #2: WHEN YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW — Some prevailing wisdom will say that any assured man or woman looking to propose marriage doesn’t or shouldn’t get down on one knee if they don’t already know a positive answer will come from that gesture. It’s not about readiness because you’re never really ready. It’s about knowing what you, want where no fear can change your mind or slow your commitment. Scherbach and Hall touching portray that dedication beautifully.
Lastly, Rendezvous in Chicago goes from a joyous union of superlatives to an anger-inducing gut punch of sudden discord. Hard-working nurse Julie (Nina Ganet) comes home to catch her boyfriend Wyatt (Shane Simmons) cheating in their own bed. Teasing perception and knowledge again, no amount of “it’s not what it looks like” pleading from Wyatt can keep Julie from throwing him to the curb and his belongings out the window. Unexpectedly, her rants of profanity give way to a vintage vinyl record that leads her to dance through her decompression.
LESSON #3: BREAKUPS CAN IMPROVE PEOPLE — A furious fight turns into a flirtatious flight of fancy. Director of photography Alex Halstaad’s long takes all film long culminate to fixating on Nina Ganet like an agile and invisible dance partner. Nina’s Julie sways and saunters over a bit of the fourth wall to narrate her mood swing. We gleefully watch her springboard out of sadness to a place that shows this lesson will come true for this woman.
Each stylish portion of Rendezvous in Chicago carries its own inviting flavor for romance and light comedy. That strength is also a minor drawback. Though the Rogers Park setting counts as one common ingredient, the three arcs are short and disconnected beyond their Rohmer homage themes. You are bound, as this writer was, to wish one (my pick is Cooney and Wehby) or even all of the chapters could continue a few beats longer or intersect with an extra tangent of depth. That’s a compliment to the engagement of this film’s created characters and the performances of the respective actors that make you want more.
Therein lies the greatest level of Michael Glover Smith’s excellent cinematic sense and aforementioned feel. Following his downright stellar Mercury in Retrograde from last year, Smith continues to create characters that look, act, and fit their narratives to a heightened degree. Their individual shadings are approachable and relatable. The fun part is the sheen on top of the shade. As enlivened as Smith’s characters constantly feel, they seem to always carry an equal measure of alluring ambiguity. That unpredictability can turn any seemingly mundane narrative on its ear. There’s a hell of a lot of enjoyment to be found in those traits.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#744)