Filmed on grainy 16mm, it’s a meandering road movie about two underachieving, alienated siblings. After she splits up with her professor-cum-boyfriend , aspiring news anchor J.R. (Carlen Altman) begs her shlubby younger brother Colin (played by director Perry) to help her back up the remnants of her miserable life and move on to the next. The journey across the States causes quite a stir, with the pair constantly berating each other in that conventional brotherly-sisterly banter way. It escalates to a harrowing final ten minutes, where the familial relationship is tested and it’s clear that, if they weren’t to have each other, they wouldn’t have anything.
Like many a-mumblecore movie before it, The Color Wheel consists of verbal sparring and excruciatingly awkward long takes. Unlike those insufferable predecessors, Perry and Altman’s script moves with great acerbic force, audaciously treating the blackly comic as flippant light humor. It’s quite similar in tone to Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, starring Tim Heidecker, only the two loathsome characters here are presented with more compassion, actually having a narrative arc to follow right up to the film’s bitter end.
Whilst the scenes shared between the two are close to Alvy Singer>Annie Hall style perfection, The Color Wheel loses it’s spark when the pair are backed up by cliche filler characters – the sorority bitch, the dumb jock, the rich kids – during a horrendous dinner party. It’s the only time when the amateur acting and forced dialogue reflect it’s minor budget production qualities.
With improvised dialogue, a roaming plot, grainy 16mm stock and Sean Price Williams’ artless cinematography, The Color Wheel absolutely stinks of Husbands-era John Cassavetes. Not that it’s a bad scent, but it permeates throughout the film and leads the homage into unwarranted pastiche, and ultimately externalizes us from the drama.
Even still, this minor tragicomedy, is a minor triumph for Perry and star in the making Altman. For fans of all things awkward, this unassuming movie sets the m-m-m-mumblecore wheel back in motion.