The wonderfully named writer-director Austin Chick makes his feature debut with this impressively accomplished and sharply funny US indie. It disappeared without trace at the American box-office, and some British critics have already complained about its self-obsessed characters. Yet XX/XY succeeds as an amusing critique rather than an empty-headed endorsement of its protagonists' behaviour.
"GRUNGY NEW YORK CIRCA 1993"
With its jump-cuts and flash-forwards, the initial 30 minutes resemble a French New Wave love-triangle, relocated to grungy New York circa 1993. Coles (actor of the moment Mark Ruffalo) and his fellow students Sam (Maya Strange) and Thea (Kathleen Robertson) are far too busy having fun at parties and raves to worry unduly about the consequences of their actions.
Coles and Sam get together as a couple only to break up when he cheats on her with their mutual close friend, the punkish Thea. The action then jumps ahead to 2001, where youthful hedonism has been replaced by adult responsibilities.
Seemingly the most mixed-up of the trio, Thea has straightened herself out and married a successful restauranteur. Coles has turned his back on his independent film career and works as a commercial animator for an ad agency, living with his girlfriend Claire (Petra Wright) in an immaculately decorated apartment. However, when he bumps into Sam, Coles realises who he really loves...
As with the best comedies, XX/XY examines some serious themes: the difficulty of expressing our real feelings, the compromises inherent in adult life, the degrees of honesty we reveal in our relationships. Benefiting from a screenplay which isn't afraid to undermine audience expectations, the actors deliver some incisive performances: Ruffalo skilfully conveys Coles' inability to grow up and face change. Wright, meanwhile, memorably gives vent to her true emotions during a trip to the Hamptons.
XX/XY is flecked with playful cine-literate touches, such as the title that alludes to Godard's Masculin Feminin and the importance within the story of a Claire Denis boxset.
And even more importantly, Chick proves that he's a sharp director - see the way he uses matchcuts and music to bridge between scenes, or how he stages a crucial exchange whilst a couple floss in front of the bathroom mirror - and a writer with a gift for finding humour and pathos in emotional predicaments.