Vague Visages’ Pratfall review contains minor spoilers. Alex Andre’s 2023 movie stars Joshua Burge, Chloé Groussard and Xavier Reyes. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Joshua Burge has one of cinema’s most expressive faces. There’s an obvious Buster Keaton quality, due to the actor’s large eyes and overall facial structure, but there’s also a striking sense of duality. Burge can play the wide-eyed Midwesterner who feels threatened by the big city, and he can transform into a menacing big city figure. For example, see the opening minutes of the new HBO series The Idol, in which a mentally ill pop star (Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn) expertly conveys how the human face often betrays one’s actual emotions. In Pratfall, the feature debut by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Alex Andre, Burge stars as Eli, a self-chatty insomniac who wanders through New York City with a French tourist named Joelle (Chloé Groussard). As the characters trade opinions about life and culture, the setting itself emerges as a looming threat. Pratfall is a sobering study of fate, unprocessed emotional trauma and The Big Apple as an unforgiving Big Bad.
Pratfall begins in media res as Eli walks down a sidewalk, clearly rattled by someone or something. The writer-director eventually reveals that two devastating losses caused the protagonist’s insomnia and erratic behavior. Through wide shots and close-ups, Andre — who worked as his own cinematographer — explores Eli’s detachment from the city itself, even though the lead character presents himself as a tough-as-nails New Yorker upon meeting the aforementioned Joelle, who cries during her first conversation with the main protagonist before developing a genuine bond with the ramblin’ man. The director, who also handled Pratfall’s sound design, makes fantastic use of throwback R&B needle-drops, rather than going with the default selection of so many indie filmmakers: jazz. With Eli firmly established as an unreliable narrator, Joelle becomes an illuminating character while observing and analyzing her new friend.
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Pratfall’s title derives from a vaudeville acting technique, in which a character embarrasses himself for the sake of comedy — a clever reference to Keaton and also Burge’s hope to star as the silent cinema icon in a biopic. In this case, Joelle functions as an audience member while Eli nervously repeats words over and over. The lack of character backstory works well in Pratfall, as it helps the audience focus on the experience of traveling in and around Central Park, instead of feeling sorry for a man who is arguably one breakdown away from seriously hurting someone or himself. As the co-protagonist, Groussard — in her memorable feature debut — steps back during crucial scenes, seemingly to complement Eli’s changing energy. By the second half, one can imagine a blossoming relationship between the two characters, at least if the male protagonist can stay out of his own way. But it’s a two-way street, of course, and Joelle is no dummy, yet she clearly doesn’t understand the dangers lurking around every corner, or how her pal’s behavior could negatively impact her trip. As adventerous travelers already know, it’s the unknown that’s always so exciting, especially when visiting a big city for the first time.
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Pratfall is ultimately about identity and accountability. In a perfect world, Eli and Joelle would spend their days trading stories and building a life together. Alas, “things happen… events occur,” as the male protagonist mutters to himself during the opening minutes. No one is coming to save him. But what if someone could understand and appreciate Eli, even in his confused, paranoid state? Pratfall isn’t a must-see New York film, but it’s a unique indie about New York City as both a protagonist and villain. Andre’s feature directorial debut vibes more with Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park (1971) than Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) or Manhattan (1979).
Pratfall premiered on June 3, 2023 at the Brooklyn Film Festival.