It’s not the film’s fault, but I had a hard time appreciating X/Y after seeing a similar backdrop & story played out so excellently in the recent break-up drama Appropriate Behavior. The two movies aren’t even that much alike. They do both begin at the end of a relationship between a young couple in NYC, but while Appropriate Behavior closely follows the emotional fallout of a single protagonist, X/Y tracks the ripples of the dissolution in a series of vignettes that details how four friends’ lives are affected by the change. In light of their disparate structural differences, it’s far from fair of me to compare the two films, but there’s just something really special about Appropriate Behavior that makes X/Y feel inessential in its wake. The lack of a connection between the film’s free-floating segments (each named after the character they follow) didn’t help either.
“Mark”: The first segment concerns Mark as he deals with his recent break-up with Sylvia by flirting with strangers, working out, and drinking to excess. We also follow him to a business meeting where he’s trying to sell a script to a major film studio and his agent provides him the advice, “Don’t fuck it up with this ‘I went to film school so I have to make art’ bullshit.” We’re most likely supposed to identify with Mark in this moment (who I guess is a stand-in for writer/director Ryan Piers Williams?) but at the same time it’s easy to see how X/Y could’ve benefited from the same advice.
“Jen”: The “free spirit” of the group, Jen is the only character in the film not in an emotional tailspin from a recent break-up, but instead suffers from the emptiness of single life. Jen is currently between jobs, between romantic flings, and between moments of knowing what to do with herself while she’s alone. As she stares wistfully into her own city-life isolation while a Chromatics song gradually gets louder on the soundtrack, we start to get a clear picture of what the movie is aiming for.
“Jake”: Jake is the thematic bridge between Jen’s free spirit sadness & the Mark/Sylvia break-up. He’s a fashion model/EDM DJ/aspiring photographer/casual sex magnet that seems to “have it all” but is just as miserable as everyone else profiled here, as he struggles with both a less-recent break-up of a long term relationship and a quest for a solid personal identity. When Mark angrily asks him, “Who are you? You’re like five different people,” it feels like his entire character in a nutshell.
“Sylvia”: Sylvia is dealing with her break-up very similarly to Mark (alcohol, flirtation, exercise) except that she’s getting laid a lot more frequently. Her segment adds the least thematically to the movie, but instead is a sort of callback to the original conflict that’s supposed to tie everything together.
So, there you have it. Four NYC sad sacks drift in & out of each other’s days while all nursing broken hearts, a lonely sounding Chromatics song playing in the background to help flesh out their big city sense of isolation. It’s by no means a terrible film; it’s pleasant enough in its small scale ambitions & comfortably sullen character studies. It’s just not an especially essential film either. I feel like a real piece of shit for saying this, because the comparison is mostly unwarranted, but if you’re going to see one post-break-up NYC drama this year, make it Appropriate Behavior. That one is a real doozy & X/Y mostly just is.