The scorpions and ants of the film being created within Ry Russo-Young’s newest drama, “Nobody Walks,” are magnified, aestheticized and set to synth, accentuating the smallest of their movements and the insignificance of their existence. These clips are the only moments shown in black and white in the otherwise color-saturated vision of Silverlake. The stark visual metaphor first jolts you between acts of adultery, making it impossible to develop any sympathy for the beautiful people who commit them, then finally boils the plot down to its most simplistic message: Nobody walks because everybody crawls.
“Nobody Walks,” like the insect montage the characters work on, raises the question of whether a film should be made just because it can be. The story is about Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a 23-year-old filmmaker from New York, and her short but very sweet visit to Los Angeles. She stays with the family of an established director, Peter (John Krasinski), who is helping with sound design on her art film. The home is as idyllic as it gets — floor-to-ceiling windows that let in the Southern California sun but shut out the dreary Los Angeles traffic; a pool; a young, attractive assistant who frequently takes off his shirt to jump in the pool; fresh succulents selectively placed around the boho-chic interior and, to complete the picture, a successful psychologist wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her two bright-eyed kids.
Even when Martine comes around to disrupt the family portrait, the sedate pace in this household never shifts too drastically. Lena Dunham (creator and star of HBO series “Girls”), who co-wrote the script, and Russo-Young merge the simulation of real time and an unelaborate storyline as a way to depict a realistic scenario of how easily a family can unravel. The selection of recognizable television stars as the major supporting characters also adds a touch of intimacy, weaving the audience uncomfortably closer to the drama. These actors more or less play extensions of their well-known roles — Krasinski is the married man with a sardonic twist in “The Office”; DeWitt channels her smart sexuality from “United States of Tara” and “Mad Men”; Justin Kirk is his usual self-ridiculing, slightly off and sexually desperate character established in “Weeds.” But Russo-Young distorts these familiar faces, develops and leaves the characters in their most selfish condition and makes the effect agitating rather than seductive.
“Nobody Walks” operates in a three-generation dynamic where everyone is a child, still coming into his or her own skin, constantly grasping for the edges of identity. The parents are self-absorbed, unstable characters who justify their behavior to others by counting the things they fear they might lose. Martine represents the young adult, both empowered and frightened by her future, who seeks quick forms of validation to alleviate anxiety. She does what she thinks is right, or at least feels is right, but treats people interchangeably, still not fully aware of the repercussions of her actions. The two collide, drawn together by the primal instinct of sexual desire, but separate, like insects, unconscious and unsympathetic toward each another. The adolescent daughter (India Ennega), who may be the only likable character in the entire film, absorbs the strange, vacuous behavior of the adults and emits her disappointments in a poem spoken as an opening and closing voice-over.
Russo-Young takes the topic of adultery, typically romanticized in fiction as a heated love affair, and dramatizes it in all its ugliness. The elegant homes, hazy views, alluring faces and bodies that fill the barren landscape of Los Angeles underscore the emptiness of such momentary desires. Watching “Nobody Walks” feels just as hollow. There is no resolution, just a plane ride going as fast as possible back to New York, and you left wondering if it was worthwhile.