Wallabout | Dir. Eric McGinty | Veronique Films
Set in present day Brooklyn, Wallabout is an ode to the city and all she represents — the unspoken alliance of old and new and the place where the bond between the two is bartered. Alex, passionately depicted by Ivy Elrod, is a newly repatriated New Yorker who returns after spending ten years in France and finds that the once familiar terrain is suddenly foreign. Returning to the New York film scene in her 30s, Alex struggles to find a job that is appropriate for her years of experience and education while simultaneously searching for a roof over her head at an age when her peers have long since established homes. Although she runs into past friends and acquaintances everywhere, she finds that their lives have travelled in very different directions than hers and old friends with new families and secure jobs no longer have the time to help her land on her feet. Her struggles to re-establish her life and career while holding onto her creative ambitions speak to everyone who has ever hit a hiccup in their path toward finding themselves.
Released theatrically in Paris in 2016, Wallabout owes its style to the French films of the 60s and 70s in which the setting is a leading character and worthy of significant screen time. As Alex makes her way through the city in search of something — housing, employment, romance — Brooklyn’s personality and its eclectic neighborhoods loom like constant reminders of its melding of past and present. But even Brooklyn can’t totally obscure its history and Alex likes to tell the story of the horrific prison ships that used to sit right off of Wallabout Bay during the revolutionary war. Alex, too, is struggling to reckon with her past as the muse and creative partner of a respected French filmmaker who revealed himself to be an abuser, leaving Alex to pick up the pieces of her shattered identity.
Authentic depictions of the sweaty Brooklyn summer provide the perfect setting for the periods of stagnations in life that fall between the renewing developments of spring and the evolving changes of autumn. Director Eric McGinty channels the realism of the French New Wave with bustling city streets and dialogue-heavy scenes about creativity and love. To this older cinematic style, he adds a fresh visual approach that emphasizes the bright colors of the city and brings life to its inhabitants through juxtapositions of long, busy shots and bold, detailed close-ups. He represents Brooklyn as he represents his characters — flaws and all. McGinty softens the realism of the setting and plot with occasional plays with focus that cast the subjects of Wallabout in abstract blurs of color. The splashes of surrealism add a dreamy artistic element that once again bridges the gap between two seemingly opposed forces.
Naturalistic performances from the actors create the sense that they have been plucked off the streets of Brooklyn. Steve Ward plays Frank, Alex’s newfound industry connection and potential romantic interest, in an honest performance that reminds Alex that the baggage of the past doesn’t have to limit future relationships. Frank’s cousin and Alex’s roommate, Jenny (Jo-Anne Lee) adds a lighthearted and youthful tone to the film and is always nearby with a witty quip anytime ideological conversations get too deep.
The themes of the film are reflected in its music. Brooklyn rock legend Vernon Reid provides electronic beats and rock guitars that combine with more traditional percussion and funk rhythms. Reid’s eclectic sound is complemented by opening and closing pieces from Kaya Doran, a younger artist whose music frames the film in undeniably modern book-ends.
Despite its flirtations with the past, the film is more relevant today than ever. Featuring a half-asian female character in her 30s, Wallabout doesn’t fall short in its diverse representations. Alex is the victim of abuse at the hands of a powerful man but her past trauma is only one element of her splintered identity. She constantly hits up against a society that tries to boil her identity down to experience, gender, and age but she continues to fight against these arbitrary categories in search of her own expression and understanding of self. While Alex travels through Brooklyn in search of herself — on bike, subway and foot — she attempts to shake off her past in exchange for new friends, new experiences, and even new love. What she finds, of course, is that just like Wallabout Bay’s prison ships, her history is not so easy to dismiss and she has to learn to accept her past failures without losing sight of her past passions. Wallabout is a serene rumination on the inescapable nature of the past and a visually and aurally compelling take on the fragmented parts that make up our identities as artists, dreamers, and humans.