Stress in a movie is like spiciness in food. Objectively, they’re both unpleasant sensations, because who wants mental dread or enflamed tastebuds? But those sensations, when in the proper context like in a film or in a dish, can take experiences to another level. Almost every minute of Geminifilled me with anxiety, and like a maxed-out spicy bowl of ramen, it was the kind of discomfort that was deeply satisfying.
Gemini (directed by Aaron Katz) is a neo-noir thriller involving the mysterious murder of a famous movie star, Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz). The story follows her assistant and best friend, Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke, who seems to be Hollywood’s go-to actress when they need a low-key moon to a more explosively charismatic sun, like Greta Gerwig in Mistress America, Gael Garcia Bernal in Mozart in the Jungle, or the superhumanly beautiful Zoe Kravitz in this film). In the beginning, we see Jill and Heather live their Hollywood life together, complete with telling off the loathsome paparazzi and passing out drunk in Heather’s Xanadu-like estate. Then one day, Jill finds Heather shot to death in her own home and becomes the prime suspect for the murder. With Detective Ahn (John Cho) in pursuit, she has to put the pieces of Heather’s messy private life together to solve the murder and clear herself.
The movie’s hypnotic soundtrack and neon palette visuals unnerve you from the very start. In one of the early scenes, Jill and Heather are at a restaurant and find themselves beset by an overeager young fan who happens to look quite similar to Heather. From Jill’s reactions, it’s obvious that Heather usually has little patience for these types. But Heather is bafflingly nice to the fan, even letting her sit with them and take multiple pictures. And every time the fan opens her mouth, you get the sense Heather could snap at any minute.
Even the ending, which some critics have disparaged as too inconsequential, leaves a lot of disturbing questions unanswered. SPOILER ALERT: It turns out that the eager superfan from the restaurant really was a bit insane and broke into Heather’s home. Heather kills her and runs away in a panic, and because of their resemblance, everyone initially thinks it’s Heather body. But even though the crazed fan entered the home, why did Heather have to kill her? Did she feel legitimately threatened or did she get trigger-happy? Near the end of the movie, Heather lets Jill punch her in the face as friendly payback for all the confusion she caused. But is she doing this so that it’d look like she was assaulted by the intruder fan?
It’s also nice to see some solid Asian characters in a movie set in Los Angeles. The aforementioned Detective Ahn is your standard straight arrow cop, but Cho (who was an excellent leading man in last year’s Columbus)plays him with a hard-nosed charm, giving off the impression that he always knows more than he’s letting on. Tracy, who is Heather’s secret girlfriend, isn’t given enough screen time to be a fuller character beyond a femme fatale, but Greta Lee does look like pretty badass driving her Mercedes coupe and adds to the alluringly untrustworthy vibe of the whole setting.
Gemini isn’t a long movie and it’s not complex or deep. But it is quite the experience: bathed in blue and pink, accompanied by a baleful auditory mix of electronica and jazz. Its Hollywood setting and noir vibe reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, L.A. Confidential. Like that classic, Gemini can be darkly and effortlessly funny by leveraging the inherent ridiculousness of Californian celebrity culture. It’s a culture that’s wholly foreign to me, even though I was born and raised on the West Coast (albeit, the Pacific Northwest). I’ve never been to L.A. except as an overnight stop on a couple of road trips. Everything I know of it, I’ve gotten from the movies. And Gemini is another very good addition to my knowledge-by-film.
Now where can I get that soundtrack?