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Tribeca 2012: Rubberneck

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18th to April 29th. Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White are there and will be seeing a shitload of movies.

Clingy lab scientist Paul (played by co-writer/director Alex Karpovsky) manages a one night stand with the out-of-his-league new girl Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman). He wants to take things further, but Danielle isn’t interested. Months later, Paul’s unrequited affection turns to anger and jealousy when Danielle starts warming up to someone else. You can probably guess where things go from there.

That sounds like a synopsis for the next episode of Dateline, and Rubberneck’s small-scale story does have a “ripped from the headlines” feel, but it approaches the material with a much less lurid approach than NBC’s newsmagazine. Rubberneck is a very grounded movie. Karpovsky, who has feature length documentary experience, doesn’t rely on the gimmicky shaky-cam style to make his film look “real.” He’s craftier than that, like his decision to film in a working lab with real scientists going about their business in the middle of takes. Despite a plot that revolves around sex and obsession, Rubberneck is a slow-burn character study firmly rooted in the real world rather than a titillating thriller.

The depiction of Paul also avoids sensationalism. Paul, the jilted lover who can’t let go, is essentially the villain of the story, and he’s in pretty much every scene (if not literally every scene). It’s a fresh approach to a familiar character. The same could be said of Karpovsky’s portrayal of Paul as emotionally disturbed and erratic rather than crazy or conniving. Far from the slick stalkers who hide their imbalances in the initial encounter, Paul is socially awkward and needy right from the opening scenes.

In the third act, the pace quickens and Karpovsky’s tight grip on this story starts to loosen. The leaps of logic and oversimplified psychology almost derail a poignant final scene powered solely by Karpovsky’s performance.

Karpovsky’s tightly wound take on the psychological thriller is hard to look away from, and his lead performance delivers a villain that is both sympathetic and unnerving. It’s a familiar story, but one that’s worth seeing from a different perspective.

VERDICT:  See it.

All scientists are a little creepy, right?

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