TRAMPS * * * 1 / 2
Starring Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten, Michal Vondel, Margaret Colin and Mike Birbiglia. Written and directed by Adam Leon.
Writer-director Adam Leon’s 2013 debut Gimme The Loot –an effervescent romantic comedy about two teenage grifters falling in love while hustling their way through outer-borough New York City– is a movie so warm and wonderful I still can’t think about it without smiling. In fact, if you haven’t seen Gimme The Loot yet, drop whatever you were doing and go watch it right now. Or at least promise you’ll catch it over the weekend. Trust me, you’re gonna love it.
Because we live in an unfair world that is horrible and makes no sense, Gimme The Loot grossed only $104,442 at the domestic box office, and I’m pretty sure most of that came from my friends. Perhaps due to this delightful film’s dismal reception, Leon’s sophomore effort Tramps feels a bit like a second pass at his first movie, except this time incorporating investors’ suggestions on how to be more quote-unquote commercial, such as making everybody white and adding something like a thriller plot.
Bless his heart, Leon tries but can’t really be arsed enough to care much about any of this pesky plot nonsense, instead once again delivering another sparkling farce about two young quasi-criminals who are the last people in the movie to realize they’re madly in love with each other.
Tramps tells the tale of a luckless line cook named Danny (Callum Turner) who helps his Polish immigrant mother run an off-track-betting center via laptop out of their Queens apartment. When his nudnick older brother gets locked up again, Danny has to sub for him at a shady suitcase swap on an Astoria subway platform.
While well-meaning enough to even write down the instructions, doltish Danny grabs the wrong bag anyway, leaving him and his surly getaway driver, Ellie (Grace Van Patten) stuck scrambling to reclaim the right one. Leon doesn’t invest the story’s criminal element with much in the way of a threat. (One of the gangsters is played by Mike Birbiglia for Chrissakes, whose scenes grind the film to a halt.) Instead it’s an opportunity for adventure, with Danny and Ellie journeying all the way to the alien planet of Westchester in order to try and get the suitcase back.
There’s a touch of Tony Manero in jug-eared Danny’s winning, slack-jawed sincerity. (I was bowled over afterwards to learn star Callum Turner is British. He should be playing Adam Driver’s brother in everything.) It’s a kick to watch ice queen Ellie slowly melting over the course of the movie, taken aback by his goofy, chivalric gestures – my favorite being when Danny offers to buy her dinner, except she has to order either an appetizer or from the kids’ menu because he only has nine dollars.
As with Gimme The Loot, there’s more than a little low-key commentary in our broke protagonists wandering wide-eyed in a rich-kid wonderland, especially during an enchanting sequence when Danny and Ellie stroll through a posh suburban carnival where they can’t afford to go on any of the rides. Indeed, there’s so much walking and talking that sometimes Tramps feels like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, except starring two people who dropped out of school.
I think, even after only two pictures, it’s already safe to say that I love the way Adam Leon looks at the world. I love the long, patient retro-zooms with which he follows folks through bustling environments, allowing their dialogue to dictate the movie’s pace. I love his cluttered, all-inclusive vision of a New York City full of curious and affectionate characters, where anything can happen and the nights are full of romantic possibility.
There’s a sense of generosity flowing through Tramps and Gimme The Loot that reminds me of the best Jonathan Demme movies. The kindness is restorative. You just feel better about things after watching them.