Gustavo Taretto’s feature debut is a quirky genre-bending romantic comedy set in Buenos Aries, with clear influences from early Woody Allen. It’s two protagonists, Martin (Javier Drolas) and Mariana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), are perfect for one another but have never met. They share the same worries and thoughts, and their lives are shown in parallel. One will be singing a song on the radio, and Taretto will juxtapose it with the other doing the same. As crucial for any Woody-Allen-esque heroes, they are both riddled with neuroses and existential dilemmas. Both are damaged and depressed, struggling with singledom and isolation.
Mariana is a gorgeous qualified architect recently out of a four year relationship. She has a fear of lifts and a penchant for Where’s Wally books. Her job as a window shopper means she has a collection of mannequins, one of which she talks to and in one odd scene even starts simulating sex with, later to say to it “don’t get any false hopes, it was only sex”. She suffers from urban alienation and muses heavily on the nature of her job: “Sometimes if someone stops to look at the display, I feel like they are stopping to look at me”.
Martin is introduced at the film’s opening, talking in a voice over that accompanies photography of Buenos Aries. This is a homage to the start of Manhattan, (later on, Martin and Mariana are shown watching that film separately, crying) but far from a romantic commentary about a place he loves, he is bemoaning the mismatched architecture and incongruous planning, blaming it for his problems. The director sees it in a more favorable light as he mingles graphic art and charming illustrations of the city with the cinematography, rather like the style in Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer.
Martin is a hypochondriac and former agrophobe who spends most of his time indoors working as a web designer and being utterly cyber dependent. He has a small dog (the token pet in romantic comedies is one frequent trope that tends to irritate me, but it isn’t a source of too much comedy so it’s bearable), and has never left the country due to his fear of travel. He winds up having a fling with the dog walker that he hires, and attempts internet dating with disappointing results. He compares the contrast between dating profile and reality to the pictures and taste of a Mcdonalds meal.
This sort of film tinkers on the edge of it’s associated genre, it isn’t clichéd -rom-com-conveyor-belt-summer release-stuff. It’s less idealistic, there’s no slapstick or restaurant orgasms in sight, the comedy is subtle and the plot’s outcome uncertain. (500) Days of Summer played with the rom-com in an overtly obvious fashion that was a bit annoying and pretentious, (although it still remains a guilty pleasure). There is a fine line between a film of this sort being a bit clever, and taking itself too seriously. Fortunately, Sidewalls relishes in a gooey ending, opting for the light-hearted path. Despite this being the right one, it was still a large leap from the moroseness that preceded it. Suddenly everything is breezy and the characters are no longer lonely or sad, as if love is the only secret to happiness. Still, films are rarely perfect and Sidewalls is a whimsical treat that will give a warm glow to many a viewer.