In this age of Tinder, political taboos and quarter-life crises, young adult romances are complicated. Director and writer Eugene Kotlyarenko attempts to dissect these trying times in his latest feature-film “Wobble Palace.” Drawing upon his own experience in a failing open relationship during the 2016 presidential election, he invites viewers into a cinematic world depicting the discordant romance of one couple fighting over who will keep their eccentric L.A. home.
Between the AstroTurf carpeted living room, the plastic baby doll decor and a green denim couch, the physical setting sets the tone of the film while representing the helplessly failing relationship of Jane (Dasha Nekrasova) and Eugene (director/writer Eugene Kotlyarenko). The film uses this central setting to explore the couple’s decision: to split their apartment for a weekend and see if they are able to make their decaying relationship work.
The story starts with the initial text exchanges between Eugene and Jane, where a budding romance appears founded on a mutual swipe-right attitude and shared Russian heritage. The origins of this relationship are explored in the film through experimental editing, which incorporates traditional tracking shots of the individual partners alongside screen recordings of their first text messages. Such an editing style underscores the stark contrast between the hopeless disaster their relationship has become and the candle in the dark their initial romantic spark once was. This introduction to Eugene and Jane reads as a poetic homage to T.S. Eliot’s sentiment, “Our beginnings never know our ends!”
The disconnected, dreamlike flashbacks of Jane and Eugene’s early romance continue to flit through their current-day life, as the first half of the film portrays Eugene’s stay alone in their home while the second half focuses on Jane’s stay. The shift in storytelling style between the two halves reflects the vast differences between the partners’ aspirations and dissatisfactions. Eugene’s choice to spend his day on multiple Tinder dates before the onset of a depressive episode reveals a selfish side, motivated simply by instant gratification and ignorant of his romantic reality. Conversely, Jane’s day turns coldly existential, as she explores her worth as an artist who may be wasting her life in both her romantic and creative pursuits. It seems the only similarities the couple shares in their days apart are agonizing over how to end the relationship and the truth of being the one who wants to keep their house.
The strength of this film lies in its ability to maintain a balance; a comedic tone offsets realistic dialogue that is sensitive to the highs and lows of lost love that nevertheless remains warmly remembered. Fondly referring to their home as “Wobble Palace,” Jane sums up this difficult duality best when she states, “That time in Wobble Palace is something I’d love to forget, but I know I never will.”
Despite the potential for the film to slip into an entirely depressing narrative, the comedic relief of “Wobble Palace” is pervasive enough to safely rule this film as a satire, even if it does jerk a few tears out of its viewer. In a scene featuring a brief flirtation between Jane and a skater boy (Jack Kilmer), the pair stare at a betta fish as Kilmer mansplains that two betta fish cannot survive in the same fish bowl. Without a word being spoken, the viewer sees the realization dawn on Jane that this is an apt metaphor for her inability to survive in a relationship with Eugene any longer.
Despite providing lovely additions, the symbolic intricacies of the film also serve as a potential future downfall for Kotylarenko’s writing. The honesty of the characters’ reflections feels like an unreproducible work — a one-hit-wonder for the filmmaker. The film is based on director and star Kotlyarenko’s real-life failing romance and the pre-breakup cold war between him and his former girlfriend. Given the closeness to the director’s lived experience, one cannot help but worry that perhaps Kotylarenko’s success may prove to be limited to “Wobble Palace.”
Regardless of whether or not the film proves to be a one-off, it is a wonderfully indulgent and uncomfortably realistic creation that understands all too well the anxieties surrounding a break up.
Between experimental editing, color coded lighting, and satirized dialogues on art and politics, “Wobble Palace” has all the markings of a cult classic in the making. The thoughtful yet nearly surrealist narrative posed by the film provides a satisfying experience that leaves the viewer craving more of the beautiful nightmare Jane and Eugene have created together. After only a brief theatrical release in the Lower East Side Film Festival, “Wobble Palace” will be available on DVD on Oct. 23.