The opening visuals of Aaron Katz’s neo-noir mystery, Gemini, are palm trees turned upside-down, silhouetted by the blue aura of the twilight skies. Accompanied by the electronic synth score, it sets the stage for an edgy, mysterious and sexy 90 minutes. It starts out strong, but as Gemini moves along and unwinds itself, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t have very much to say. The screenplay lacked control over the tonal consistency and failed to capture any meaningful level of depth that the gorgeous Nicolas Winding Refn inspired visuals and hypnotic score could not do much to save this film from being a slog.
Gemini begins with Jill (Lola Kirke), a personal assistant for Heather (Zoë Kravitz), one of the most famous actresses in Hollywood going through a rough patch of partying and avoiding her responsibilities. In the prologue of the film, Jill helps Heather avoid reshoots, encounter an invasive fan, avoid paparazzi and drives Heather to a karaoke night with her secret girlfriend. This first act is as interesting and compelling as the film gets. Introducing us to a number of different faces and establishing their direct relationships with Heather, the film allows us to take a look into the celebrity culture of L.A. and makes us feel for Heather’s lack of privacy through the way she interacts with other characters. Although expositional for the murder mystery to unfold, the first act does a lot to give us context for Jill and Heather as friends and foreshadows a seductive darkness of L.A. nightlife.
Unfortunately, the promised build up by the first 20 minutes of the movie does not deliver satisfyingly. The first act ends with the murder of Heather (as seen in the trailer, so NOT a spoiler), and after this scene the film struggles to find an identity or narrative weight to make it more than a barebones thriller with pretty lights. Jill makes the choice to figure out who killed Heather alone in disguise, investigating characters met in the first act and new ones. What should be conceptually gripping and interesting turns out to be frankly idiotic because the tone of this movie is all over the place. Jill’s motivation to go find the killer herself and her disguise is quite silly and played off so straight. Gone is the edgy and interesting feel of the first act, in with illogical choices and cartoonish caricatures of L.A. residents.
The tone problem is particularly apparent with the first suspect Jill interrogates, the filmmaker who Heather turned down, Greg. The screen-time Jill shares with him is eye-roll inducing and tiredly expositional. I picked up his character was meant to be satirical, poking fun at entitled white male filmmakers and their lack of empathy towards the talent they work with, but the character simply had nothing to offer in this story besides giving Jill information she could have figured out herself. Once the film makes a gag about his stuffed octopus, he is never mentioned again past this point and it gives off the feeling that the time we spent in his house was completely unnecessary. This film was praised for being a decent snapshot of L.A, but I didn’t feel Gemini captured any real depth or nuance to the discussions it raises. Especially with the recent controversies sparked in the Hollywood climate, it feels like such a missed opportunity to not delve deeper into the power dynamics in play with film production. There’s a lot of reason why someone like Greg logically would be a suspect in the murder of Heather, but the film doesn’t address the logical reasons.
This is true for the rest of the film, and especially when the third act hits- the mystery unfolds and leaves a lot to be desired. Without spoiling the film, the last act dips into an ending that presents itself as a lot more intellectual and interesting than it actually is. The sting is that the same twist has been done before in other mystery thriller classics of this kind, and a million times better. In an other perspective I realize the “who-dun-it” factor might not be the focus of the script- but it feels incredibly lazy how underwritten the mystery was. If the point was not centered around the twist, why didn’t the film simply dedicate more time to developing its view of L.A. past a simple reading of “celebrity culture bad”? The conclusion of Gemini simply erases all the stakes, making it feel inconsequential. It betrays the weight of the previous 80 minutes, and this would be fine if there was some sort of developed thematic conclusion but there simply isn’t one. If this is the point, it doesn’t execute it well.
The neon cinematography by Andrew Reed and the gorgeous score by Keegan DeWitt was stunning, but they felt wasted. I believe as both a filmmaker and a film writer that there can be moments in film where the style takes over and becomes the substance, and those are earned with exemplary direction- something Gemini lacks. So as sublime and mystical as the film presented itself, the moments of style felt more impressive than they actually were and left me feeling empty. I say this is very comparable to how I felt during 2016’s The Neon Demon (though less offended and more frustrated), in that this movie does get to be gorgeous but in mostly in arbitrary and undeserved contexts. Especially seeing how neon has been solidified as the new modern look to contemporary film as of late, it is a waste to not do anything inventive to make this stand out in our age where CW shows are littered with bright lights.
Style only gets a filmmaker so far. With a tighter script Gemini could have been an interesting romp through L.A. and a study of the people who work there, but due to superficial direction and writing, it fails to capture anything meaningful, leaving the audience with a feeling of “that’s it?” There’s a difference between clever subtlety and pseudo-intellectual vagueness. For a film that tries to be a stylish slow burn, Gemini ends with just a measly flicker.