‘The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed’ Review: With Wry Wit, Joanna Arnow Presents Millennial Life in All Its Mundanity
It takes a moment to settle into the rhythm of Joanna Arnow’s droll directorial debut The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed. The beginning riffs on a familiar scene of lovers in post-coital repose before offering something so different, it’s hard not to laugh. Ann (Arnow) lays on the sheets, staring at Allen (Scott Cohen), who is asleep under the covers. She inches closer until she’s on top of him. Then, the humping begins. “I like how you don’t care if I get off,” she says, “because it’s like I don’t even exist.” To that, her lover tiredly replies: “Can you not?”
Like most of the dialogue in The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, this line is delivered without any affect or hint of emotion. Arnow’s directorial debut plays with the mundanity of existence by extracting the most humorous moments from our daily interactions. The film is a mosaic, a series of sketches portraying the life of Ann, a millennial woman recently inspired to resuscitate her stagnant life.
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Filled with glimpses of Ann making steady, undramatic progress, the movie explores the elliptical aspect of living. In their quests to change, people take small steps forward and backward; they correct mistakes only to make them again later. If you’re looking for a typical movie about a millennial woman upending her life in dramatic ways, this film is not for you. Arnow is more interested in figuring out how the medium can reflect a real life — for better or worse.
Things happen in fits and starts for Ann. During an early scene, she realizes that she barely knows Allen after their nearly seven years as “sex-friends,” a term she uses throughout the film. Allen still asks her at what age they met, how old she is now and where she went to college. When she asks about his life, wondering, for example, if he’s a Zionist, she’s surprised when he replies in the affirmative. Later conversations with Allen and Ann’s sister (Alysia Reiner) prompt more introspection in our protagonist. Time seems to have passed without her noticing, and she wonders somewhat blithely if she should be further along.
The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed is loosely divided into sections named after the people Ann dates. The blunt editing style (done by Arnow herself) makes each vignette feel like its own discrete story: Ann and Allen in bed roleplaying their dom-sub relationship; Ann in the office, sitting through a dry corporate meeting; Ann with her parents (played by Arnow’s real parents, Barbara Weiserbs and David Arnow), having dinner. The effect can be jarring, but as the film proceeds, you start to get a feel for the jagged cadence.
The comic effects of Arnow’s style are most felt in the scenes of Ann with her various partners and at her day job. The specifics of what she does don’t matter as much as the nature of work itself — how corporations treat their employees like cogs in a machine. Ann sits through meetings with perfunctory presentations. During one scene she receives a prize for making it to one year on the job, although she has worked at the company for three years. Managers and coworkers move on but the monotony of the office rarely budges.
These representations don’t make the movie explicitly a workplace comedy, but they do match the matter-of-fact style of similar scenes in films like Julio Torres’ Problemista. At an office party, Ann shows a coworker a gemstone lamp she found. “It casts a wonderful warm glow on everything,” she says, while presenting her colleague a picture of her holding the lamp. “Oh, you mean a salt lamp,” the other woman says. “It’s pretty common, it’s like a thing for lonely people.” The moment is made by Ann’s reaction: pursed lips, narrowed eyes and an uncomfortable stiffness in her body.
Arnow’s succinct humor and physical comedy lend themselves to a surprising vulnerability over the course of the film. In that way, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed feels like Martine Syms’ 2022 film The African Desperate. Ann’s relationship with Allen is flawed, but BDSM requires them to be open communicators. Years as a submissive in relationships have empowered Ann, who demonstrates greater agency with other intimate partners. Later relationships, like ones with Thomas (Peter Vack), Elliot (Parish Bradley) and Chris (Babak Tafti), give us a subtle sense of how Ann has changed.
Arnow’s film won’t be for everyone — there’s a specificity and an insider energy to some of the jokes, which don’t always land — but there’s enough to fuel curiosity about what Arnow is trying to do. Even the title, with its sense of drifting and silent ellipses, makes you think.
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