Review of "The feeling that the time to do something has passed": with an ironic spirit, Joanna Arnow presents millennial life in all its worldliness

Review of “The feeling that the time to do something has passed”: with an ironic spirit, Joanna Arnow presents millennial life in all its worldliness

It takes a moment to settle into the rhythm of Joanna Arnow’s goofy directorial debut The feeling that the time to do something has passed. The opening riffs on a familiar scene of lovers in post-coital repose before delivering something so different, it’s hard not to laugh. Ann (Arnow) lies on the sheets, staring at Allen (Scott Cohen), who is sleeping under the covers. She moves a little closer until she’s on top of him. Then, she starts the jump. “I love how you don’t care if I get off,” she says, “because it’s like I don’t even exist.” To this, her lover replies wearily: “Can’t you?”

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Like most dialogues in The feeling that the time to do something has passed, this line is delivered without any effect or hint of emotion. Arnow’s directorial debut plays with the mundanity of existence by extracting the funniest moments from our everyday interactions. The film is a mosaic, a series of sketches depicting the life of Ann, a millennial woman recently inspired to resurrect her stagnant life.

The feeling that the time to do something has passed

The bottom line

An intelligent and singular debut.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Realisateurs Fortnight)
Launch: Joanna Arnow, Scott Cohen, Babak Tafti, Michael Cyril Creighton, Alysia Reiner
Director-writer: Joan Arnow

1 hour and 27 minutes

Filled with glimpses of Ann making steady, undramatic progress, the film explores the elliptical aspect of life. In their quest for change, people take small steps back and forth; they correct mistakes only to make them again later. If you’re looking for a quintessential movie about a millennial woman who upends her life in dramatic ways, this movie isn’t for you. Arnow is more interested in understanding how the medium can reflect a real life, for better or for worse.

Things happen in fits and starts for Ann. During an early scene, she realizes she barely knows Allen after their nearly seven years as “sex buddies,” a term she uses throughout the film. Allen again asks her how old they met, how old she is now and where she went to college. When she asks him about her life, wondering, for example, if he’s a Zionist, she’s surprised when he says he is. Subsequent conversations with Allen and Ann’s sister (Alysia Reiner) stimulate greater introspection in our protagonist. Time seems to have passed without her noticing, and she wonders somewhat gleefully if she should be further along.

The feeling that the time to do something has passed it is loosely divided into sections named after the people Ann is dating. The candid editing style (done by Arnow herself) makes each panel feel like a story unto itself: Ann and Allen in bed play out their dom-sub relationship; Ann in the office, sitting in a dry company meeting; Ann with her parents (played by Arnow’s real parents, Barbara Weiserbs and David Arnow), at dinner. The effect can be jarring, but as the film progresses, you start to hear the jagged cadence.

The comedic effects of Arnow’s style are felt most in Ann’s scenes with her various partners and in her day job. The details of what she does don’t matter as much as the nature of the job itself: how companies treat their employees like cogs in a machine. Ann attends meetings with perfunctory presentations. During one scene she receives an award for having worked for one year, even though she has worked at the company for three years. Managers and colleagues move, but the monotony of the office rarely changes.

These depictions do not make the film explicitly a workplace comedy, but match the practical style of similar scenes in films such as Julio Torres Problemist. At an office party, Ann shows a colleague a gemstone lamp she found. “Design a wonderful warm light on everything,” she says, as she presents her colleague with a photo of her holding the lamp. “Oh, you mean a salt lamp,” the other woman says. “It’s quite common, it’s like a thing for lonely people.” The moment is marked by Ann’s reaction: pursed lips, hooded eyes, and an uncomfortable stiffness in her body.

Arnow’s succinct humor and physical comedy lend themselves to surprising vulnerability throughout the film. In that way, The feeling that the time to do something has passed looks like the 2022 film by Martine Syms The desperate African. Ann’s relationship with Allen is imperfect, but BDSM requires them to be open communicators. Years as a submissive in relationships have strengthened Ann, who demonstrates greater agency with other intimate partners. Later relationships, such as those with Thomas (Peter Vack), Elliot (Parish Bradley) and Chris (Babak Tafti), give us a subtle glimpse of how Ann has changed.

Arnow’s film won’t be for everyone – there’s a specificity and internal energy to some of the jokes, that doesn’t always come through – but there’s enough to fuel curiosity about what Arnow is trying to do. Even the title, with its sense of drift and silent ellipses, makes you think.