Most people – well, most Americans – have a sibling. So, naturally, sibling rivalry commonly appears as an aspect or subject in film. This usually involves pairing off actors who scarcely know each other prior to the shoot and asking them to fill in a lifetime of close, personal experience with that person. Almost inevitably, it feels forced and not entirely believable.
Alex Ross Perry’s “The Color Wheel,” on the other hand, might be the most convincing on-screen portrayal of siblings I have ever seen. Perry not only directed the film, but also co-wrote it with his co-star Carlen Altman. Every moment, every barb, every heartfelt appeal for approval struck a nerve with me. Such seldom-found recognition makes this a perfect pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
Perry’s naturalistic, grainy black & white film look nicely complements the raw emotional scabs being picked apart by the brother and sister at the heart of the film. (Often times, those aesthetic choices just come across as showy and pretentious.) Carlen Altman’s JR, an aspiring news anchor with exaggerated perceptions of her own talent, decides to make a move after breaking off a relationship with her former professor. Since her prickly personality alienated most of her friends, JR has little recourse but her brother, Perry’s Colin, to help her make the journey.
I have taken many a long road trip in my day, and “The Color Wheel” captures the frustration and exhaustion that comes from the taxing mental tolls they exact. After a long day of driving, patience is thin and emotional regulation is low. JR and Colin trade really authentic and acerbic banter from either side of the center console. Their digs wound deeply because siblings know each other perhaps better than anyone and can make brutally honest assessments of each other. Every few minutes, I whispered to myself, “That’s something I might say to my brother.”
Family is a contact sport in “The Color Wheel,” both in terms of the pain of a tackle and the warmth of a hug. JR and Carlen come to important realizations about where they need to move in their lives. They see the disparity between how they present themselves to their peers and how they naturally act to a family member, which motivates them to make some changes. Perry and Altman even prove willing to critique the narcissism that many accuse the so-called “mumblecore” movement of demonstrating so unabashedly, and the result is a film as enlightening as it is hilarious and frank.