Telling a story through some kind of gimmick is always risky. Some films have tried telling their story in real-time and achieved middling success. Other films have told their stories in reverse and received a cult following. Now comes along Peter and Vandy which features non-chronological storytelling to follow the course of one romantic, modern day relationship. While not perfectly executed, the convention is handled exceedingly well here and more importantly is not the only aspect that makes the film great.
Peter and Vandy features a fairly mundane story about the titular characters (Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler) living out a very ordinary relationship together. They meet, they date, they fall in love, they fight. There’s no traditional protagonist or antagonist. The story just “is” and the characters simply “do”. That’s not the most rousing plot description and if that were the full extent of the film, it would be difficult to recommend Peter and Vandy. Thankfully, the filmmakers decided to chronicle Peter and Vandy’s relationship in a non-chronological manner in an attempt to give audiences greater insight into the jumbled experience that is the modern day relationship.
Writer and director Jay DiPietro has created a clever masterpiece. Relationships are confusing on their own without having to mix up its timeline, yet DiPietro manages to do just that and still keep the audience on track and enthralled. That’s because he wisely chose a prototypical relationship with a trajectory that’s as formulaic as the most cliché Hollywood film. As such, audiences can be whipped around the relationship timeline and generally know when they are, because everyone who has been in any kind of long-term relationship has experienced a variation of Peter and Vandy’s story.
It also helps that DiPietro included several visual clues to help less experienced viewers keep up. Cinematic map markers include the changing seasons, grown or shaved facial hair and striking attire. Color is also used very liberally to help color-code the film’s iconic stretches of time, but all of these contrivances are done artfully and are never thrust upon the audience. The one criticism of this mechanic is that DiPietro pushes the envelope on cleverness by sometimes misleading the audience into thinking a scene represents one point in the relationship when it’s actually a moment later or earlier. In any event, the convention is still handled masterfully.
Complementing the visual style is the excellent, natural writing. Peter and Vandy are two of the most ordinary characters to grace the silver screen, making them an absolute joy to watch. They sit around, languishing on the couch, debating dinner plans weighing the benefit of eating against the sacrifice of getting up and putting on shoes. They fight over something truly insignificant – how many knives should be used when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? – when they’re actually fighting about something else. At no time does the dialog ever sound movie-esque or stylized. The characters are so normal that audiences will be hard pressed not to see parts of themselves represented in Peter and Vandy.
Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler turn in phenomenal performances, which is evident from the very beginning when Peter nervously confesses his love to Vandy who awkwardly doesn’t want to return the sentiment. Vandy’s too-controlled expression counterbalances Peter’s embarrassment perfectly and viewers can’t help but forget they’re watching a film. The performances only get better as the film continues. This is acting at its finest.
Peter and Vandy is a wonderful rarity in filmmaking. It’s well-crafted, innovative and simply entertaining. The non-chronological storytelling won’t necessarily give new insight into relationships, but it will definitely keep audiences engaged and it adds a beautiful nuance to the entire film that would be absent without it.