' ' Cinema Romantico: Tramps

Monday, September 25, 2017


Not unlike his remarkable feature film debut “Gimme the Loot”, writer/director Adam Leon’s “Tramps” employs a distinct guerilla aesthetic, where the camera often seems to be eavesdropping, such as a shot near the beginning from the top of a train platform that watches the two main characters descend to the street before zooming out, picking up passerby overhearing them like it isn’t planned, and then zooming back in. Unlike “Gimme the Loot”, however, in which its characters were committed to their street graffiti lifestyle, the young adults of “Tramps” are seeking a way out of the lives they lead. Ellie (Grace Van Patten) has come to New York City to get away, and stay away, from Pittsburgh, while Danny’s (Callum Turner) living room has been turned into a bookie parlor by his own mother, compromising his dreams of being a culinary master, which isn’t give much shading though a single shot at the start of Danny prepping dinner is lovingly lingered on by Leon. Their aspiring escape is underscored by how much time they spend together on the move, walking, running, even riding bikes, a wonderful scene that Leon draws out, letting us revel in them reveling in the sensation of being anywhere except where they were.

This movement is a necessity on account of the driving plot point borrowed from a thousand films – that is, a mysterious briefcase. Danny’s brother calls from prison, where he’s locked up just for the night, with instructions to meet a driver, which turns out to be Ellie, to get the briefcase and then exchange it with a woman on a train platform. That it all goes wrong goes without saying, forcing Danny and Ellie to team up to try and retrieve the case after it goes missing, leading them on a chase extending outside the city and into the tony environs of Westchester County, briefly allowing them to try on the lifestyles of the rich, where the admitted thievery nevertheless emblemizes existences they don’t think they necessarily deserve. And it is here our unlikely duo begins communicating, haltingly at first and then more openly, realizing they have something in common, forging a connection, one that Leon lets the camera simply pick up in the actors’ behavior as much as from their scripted byplay. When Danny tells some guy-ish story, the true joy is watching Ellie follow along, from Wait, What? to Maybe You’re All Right. Later, as they try to figure out what to do, Danny finds himself on the phone hurriedly explaining his situation. As he does, however, he can’t help but notice Ellie and smile, and in noticing her, the phone call just sort of fades away,

In some ways, that’s a problem. Though “Tramps” is pushed along by this criminal current, none of the criminals are particularly frightening, emblemized by comedian Mike Birbiligia’s role as the intermediary, or something, between Ellie and the people requiring the case’s delivery. Even when the situation is supposedly dire, Birbiligia’s laid-back demeanor and wardrobe convey the exact opposite. You never truly fear for Ellie and Danny’s lives. Then again, Leon doesn’t want to keep you on edge so much as put a smile on your face, which is why his soundtrack isn’t suspenseful but jaunty. And while that make you wonder why he drags out the musty ol’ Mysterious Briefcase storyline in the first place, well, while the attaché’s contents will not be revealed suffice to say they connect to a quiet yet forceful Margaret Colin cameo where she is able to off-handedly dispense immense life advice to an initially unwitting Ellie about all the duplicitous, make-it-difficult males surrounding them while simultaneously foreshadowing the arduous turns that romance can take.

It speaks to the fledgling flame between Danny and Ellie, one smartly played by the film not as some all-consuming love but curious and flirtatious, something new and fun, which you see in a moment where they wander some small town carnival. It allows for Leon to squeeze in some shots at magic hour, sure, but boy does magic hour in this instance underline the magic of when you think you might be falling for someone, and you just want to shut out the rest of the world and wander around in this punch drunk feeling. That’s the why the ultimate disconnect from the underworld subplot still works, because Leon never quite forgets that these are just kids, much too young for something so nefarious, and lets them go lead their lives.

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