The intended moral of Aaron Katz’s new mystery film Gemini is something like “You never really know who your friends are,” but it’s much closer to “Don’t let the famous actress that you work for borrow the gun that you got illegally from a grip on a movie shoot.” That’s exactly what Jill (Lola Kirke) does to set the events of the film in motion, and it turns out pretty poorly for her.
After a night of dealing with her friend and boss Heather (Zoe Kravitz) and the star’s somewhat extreme conflicts with a number of possibly unhinged people — amongst others, a paparazzo (James Ransone), a frustrated director (Nelson Franklin) and a crazed fan (Jessica Parker Kennedy) — Jill loans her a snubnose so that Heather might feel safer at night. Next thing you know, Jill’s walking home from a meeting with the studio about required reshoots that Heather doesn’t want to go to, and finds her boss on the ground in a pool of blood, having been shot five times by the gun that she loaned her. A cold LAPD detective (John Cho) believes that Jill’s responsible for the crime, and all of the evidence seems to point to her, so Jill goes out on the lam and tries to find the killer herself before a warrant for her arrest is issued.
This is an immensely fun set-up for a film, and Katz, a former mumblecore stalwart (Dance Party U.S.A) turned purveyor of minor neo-noir (2010’s Cold Weather), is more than capable at making it both compelling and desperately pretty. His L.A., a collection of neon-lit karaoke rooms, empty city buses and florescent laundromats, is a vision in line with that of Mann or Refn, though perhaps not as exquisitely refined, and it’s a perfect palm-tree specked environment for the Hollywood Babylon-esque goings-on that comprises much of the runtime.
It’s photographed with aplomb by Katz’s long-time cinematographer Andrew Reed, and makes sort of a dramatic departure from their previous works together, and I often found myself thinking about a particularly interesting shot well after we’d moved on from that moment in the narrative. There’s also a brilliant fucking sax-soaked ambient score by another one of Katz’s regular collaborators, Keegan DeWitt, which I need on wax right about now.
Those mumblecore roots serve Katz well here, as he’s able to coax a realistic friendship from Kravitz and Kirke, and oftentimes the scenes between the two of them are more compelling than any of the more lurid aspects of the film. They both do a fantastic job, and Kirke proves herself to be a solid “wrong man” heroine, fusing shades of your modern Insta-centric 20-something with the laconic vibe of Elliott Gould’s Phillip Marlowe. Kravitz is good at making a role which would seem totally unlikable in another actor’s hands charming- she’s essentially an overgrown child, which is highlighted in a specific scene, but she’s cool, collected and witty, and it genuinely feels like the two of them have been best friends for years prior to the film’s start. Cho, who is the kind of justice-focused detective who will personally stalk you after a case is closed in order to prove his hunches right, has an icy temperament that clashes well with Kirke’s laidback vibes, and makes for a compelling antagonist. But no one else really makes an impression, perhaps outside of the Ricki Lake cameo that happens near the end of the film.
Gemini has one tragic flaw, though, and that’s its barely 90 minute runtime, which, given Katz’s attempts at creating a slow vibe in the first act, causes the second and the third to feel like they’re running at hyperspeed. As such, no one is given enough time to come across as well as the main two protagonists do, and when one of them disappears after the thirty-minute mark, it has a catastrophic effect on the pacing and tenor of the film (perhaps rightfully as an important death should, but the attempts made to establish a similar rapport with other characters are hurried and incomplete).
The ending, as well, leaves us in an awkward place, after a series of third-act revelations that are gasp-worthy in their own right that might have served as a better conclusion than what we’re ultimately given. But as far as recent neo-noir releases go, you really can’t go wrong with Gemini, as it’s an clever and compelling little movie with swell visuals and incredibly strong performances by Kravitz and Kirke. Just make sure to leave your guns at home, people. You never know when one can accidentally go off.