The review of Pet Shop Days: Olmo Schnabel’s directorial debut doesn’t work, making poor use of the available elements, and indeed adding themes that struggle to find their own dimension. Presented in Venice 2023.
Back and forth, intersecting themes, in an outline that never goes too far, adding little to the script, and little in terms of structure. Despite the source material, and despite the academic kiss of Martin Scorsese, who appears as executive producer. Nevertheless, Pet Shop Days, which mentions the British group in the title, but also the location from which the action emerges (precisely, a pet shop in the Bronx), fails to maintain the right grip, fraying the premises. In short, canonically speaking, the directorial debut of Schnabel Elm it is not convincing, and stops in the aforementioned exploration of human solitude, betraying the exciting expectations.
An even louder hint, if we think that the film, presented to Venezia 2023 in the Orizzonti Extra section, it has New York as its stage, without the energy, exuberance and intrusiveness of Manhattan taking the right space and the right cinematic breath. At that time, Pet Shop Days seems to examine the precarious hold of a generation crushed by desperation and discomfort, however the reverberations of emotional isolation, of which the director is the spokesperson, loosen behind a clearly seen staging that recalls Scorsese himself, or the Safdie Bros , or Paul Schrader, without ever touching his poetics, vision and dramaturgical power which is firmly linked to the “dirtiness”, avoiding mannerisms. Those mannerisms that Olmo Schnabel seems to prefer instead.
Pet Shop Days, an exchange of solitude
The subject of Pet Shop Days starts from the screenplay written by Olmo Schnabel, Galen Core and Jack Irv, bringing to light the restless lives of two different boys who, crossing paths by chance, will find a way to escape. There is Alejandro (Dario Yazbek), who escapes from Mexico City after running over his beloved mother, as a gesture of rupture towards an oppressive and ruthless father (a gesture that will then fall into nothing, ending without any real closure); and there is Jack (played by Jack Irv himself), who works in a Manhattan pet shop, with a, we might say, complex family. A spark is ignited between the two that will lead them to burn and mutually discover an attraction in which they can be free to explore their sexuality. However, between nightclubs, family hardships and wild nights out, Jack and Alejandro leave behind a trail of thefts and gimmicks, inevitably coming to clash with destiny.
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Little involvement, little structure
As written at the beginning of the review, Pet Shop Days quickly loses propulsion, inserting a quantity of backstory who struggle to keep up with the pace, and without having the right strength to be developed. The theme of loneliness, and the exchange of loneliness, is the nerve center of the film, but the latent desperation that grips the lives of Jack and Alejandro does not have the reverberation necessary to intrigue the viewer. Or rather, the protagonists, in their outlined structure, offer little: we are not emotionally involved, nor do we feel revulsion.
There is no direct feeling towards them because there is no pretext that leads us to establish a relationship with them. We don’t even find the nuances, if they are nuances. Here, the figures of Jack and Alejandro, made even less credible by the interpretations of Dario Yazbek and especially Jack Irv, fully reflect the vacuous development of the film, which piles up topics without ever really bringing them to the surface (family problems, sexuality, utopia, personal fulfillment, independence), and consequently dissipating the supporting cast (there are Willem Dafoe, Emmanuelle Seigner, Peter Sarsgaard), the geographical panorama (New York is never breathed, nor takes part in the action), and the initial shocks that could have made one think of a small miracle. Sin.
Pet Shop Days lacks identity. As written in the review, Olmo Schnabel’s directorial debut exploits a staging already seen by increasing the themes and stories, without ever giving depth to the story. The biggest problem, however, comes from the protagonists: a couple for whom we feel little, leaving us suspended in a vacuous and unstructured dimension.
Because we like it
- The supporting cast, from Willem Dafoe to Peter Sarsgaard.
- Too many topics.
- The two protagonist actors, not very credible.
- It does not make proper use of geographical spaces.
- A staging without its own identity.