Like its title, the arty comedy Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town is driving, punkish, and trying way too fucking hard. It opens with a pink-hued prologue set in a field beyond space and time in which three iterations of its female protagonist (Mackenzie Davis) engage with one another, sometimes via split screen, in language so theatrically high-flown that it’s hard to discern what’s actually being said. That’s followed by a terrific, down-to-earth scene in which Izzy wakes up naked beside a man she can’t remember having met. He turns out to be played by the brilliant Lakeith Stanfield (without the “La” that sometimes precedes his first name), and he can’t remember who she is, either. Their awkward banter and attempt to reconstruct what happened the night before is so charming that I couldn’t wait to see how their relationship would evolve. But guess what? It’s Stanfield’s only scene. Izzy has other zanies to meet on her way the fuck across town. To which I can only say, Fuck.
The writer-director, Christian Papierniak, made his name with the video game NBA 2K18. He appears to be trying to split the difference between that arena and the world of “edgy” indie female-driven comedy. When Izzy — her white catering-company coat splattered with something red from a violent incident the previous night — discovers that her ex-boyfriend is now engaged to her best friend, she emits a series of high-decibel F-bombs and charges in the direction of her car, determined to get the you-know-what across town to crash the tony engagement party, her odyssey divided into chapters with goofy titles and a clock that tells you how many minutes she has left. Punky numbers (one by Courtney Barnett, the rest written by Andrew Brassell) screeched by women are used to supply momentum.
Izzy… could be subtitled “Meetings With Remarkably Annoying People,” starting with the mechanic (Brandon T. Jackson) who has had her car for a week and doesn’t know when it will be ready, as he’s too busy being mesmerized by a poetically discombobulated woman in black (Dolly Wells) who stops every day at the end of his driveway. He has a monologue about the woman but I somehow drifted off while he was talking. Desperate for a car, Izzy then charges into the home of a pudgy nerd (Haley Joel Osment!), who begs her to sweet-talk a passed-out drunk woman played by Alia Shawkat. It’s a meandering, uncomfortable scene. Annie Potts lets Izzy into her house; shows her a box of old mixtapes and a VHS in which an ex-lover says, “I miss you, that’s why”; and ruminates on the ephemeralness of existence: “You imagine that this will be a story to tell someone, but the story starts to disappear… Young love… The one that meant the most in that box…” First I wrote, “It’s always nice to see Annie Potts,” but deleted it and then, as you can see, added it back but in quotation marks. I’m ambivalent.
The only remaining good scene is when Izzy charges into the home of her estranged sister, Virginia, with whom she once had a band. Partly it’s that Carrie Coon plays Virginia with a welcome hardness, as if as appalled by the context as we are. Later, there’s a brief, funny bit with Bobby Lamont as a sympathetic bartender, but it’s a rocky road to the jarring finale, in which Izzy watches a terrible two-person play (“And in a hundred years there will be millions that have absolutely nothing to do with us,” is one sad attempt at Chekhov) that’s actually only marginally worse than what has preceded it.
Davis has appeared in a host of indie movies and has been so versatile and dynamic that I thought I’d be happy watching her read the proverbial phone book. I’d rather have watched her read the phone book. She’s often very funny here — the headstrong Izzy is potentially a wonderful character — but she repeats herself too often. In a scene in which Izzy plays and sings an old song with Virginia, Davis’s huge eyes convey grief and longing. It’s moving — until the minutes go by and her huge eyes are still conveying the same grief and longing. We get it.
I know I’ve been rather harsh on an indie film that deserves points for its ambitions, so let me end on a brighter note. If Papierniak took that scene with Stanfield and started over with it, he might have a hell of a good rom-com. He needs to learn to separate the gold from the fucking shit.