“The Plagiarists” or Will the Real Karl Ove Knausgaard Stand Up?

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I kept thinking throughout Peter Parlow’s cleverly conceived “comedy” that I should be laughing. “I really need a coffee for this!” was my second and third thoughts. Then: “Hey, I bet those indieWire critics and J. Hoberman guffawed into their popcorn when reviewing this.”

Let me go check what others actually opined.

Variety’s Jessica Kiang: “An intellectually ticklish, micro-budget, low-grade-video movie with metatextual wit to burn.” Not bad.

Hollywood Reporter:[I]t’s easy to walk away from The Plagiarists thinking nothing of much significance was accomplished. [However,] the film improves upon reflection.” True . . . true.

This plotless cornucopia of semi-intellectual ponderings begins with a car giving up in a bewintered countryside. The very white Anna (Lucy Kaminsky) and Tyler (Eamon Monaghan), lovers and inhabitants of the aforementioned auto, immediately start letting loose on each other. (Rocky Horror’s Brad and Janet had to cope with a similar, yet more musical, mechanical mishap.)

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The insecure Anna, by the way, a former shoplifter of panties from Victoria’s Secret, is in the midst of writing a memoir-based novel while the cocksure Tyler is a would-be director, whose main gig at the moment is as a DP on an Evian ad.

“I’m supposed to be back tonight. Philly,” he notes.

So what is a couple to do but bicker and freeze to death? Thankfully, Clip (the superb Michael “Clip” Payne), a black resident of the area, shows up and invites the duo to his home, including the use of his bathroom down the hall, and his phone to get a mechanic.

Uh-oh, is this guy “sketchy?” Anna wonders. Is she stuck in a Get Out scenario in reverse? And why is there a white child playing upstairs in his house? Is this Clip’s child, is he a babysitter, or . . . ?

Happily, Clip might just be what he seems, a nice guy who lets the couple dine and sleep over, while he has sex with an unseen, rather orgasmically noisy woman in the room nearby. Earlier in the evening, though, Tyler snoops around the house, coming across highly sophisticated but dated camera equipment while the host beguiles Anna with tales of his youth: “Little did I know then that every detail of this landscape, and every single person living in it, would forever be lodged in my memory with a ring as true as perfect pitch.”

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Anna also cooks dinner: “Look at the sauce. It looks like vomit.”

The next day, the auto is fixed, and everyone goes back to their everyday routines in their proper locales.

Jump ahead six months. It’s summer, and Tyler and Annie are back on the road. They’re driving to visit a friend, Allison (the deliciously quirky Emily Davis), heading up to the country again. While Tyler chats away on varied topics with unearned bravado such as the current disavowal of the Shaken Baby Syndrome and the nonexistence of sex trafficking, Annie is reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Book 3. Suddenly, a look of disturbance creeps onto her brow. Everything Clip has told her about his life is taken word for word from this acclaimed work. He’s plagiarized Knausgaard’s life. Why? she wants to know with a fury that knows no end.

Even after arriving at Allison’s, her anger doesn’t abate. But, hey! isn’t her own manuscript, which cannibalizes her friends, although pleasantly, plagiarized in a way, too? And what about Tyler’s tormenting monologues? He’s no doubt unconsciously based them on half-heard call-in shows, and his delivery is very Seinfeld-on-crack.

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And what about the rest of us? Have any of us ever had an original thought? As Mark Twain noted, “What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing, he knew nobody had said it before.”

So, admittedly, the greater the distance in time I’m away from having watched The Plagiarists, the more I enjoy it. (I mean who’s still pondering Dark Phoenix five minutes after the credits roll?) Possibly, that’s just what the astute screenwriters, James N. Kienitz and Robin Schavoir, and Parlow desired.

Filmed in a week over 6 months, the helmer describes his effort as “a contemporary story that happens to be captured on old videotape which still exists as new videotape (‘deadstock’ or ‘new-old stock’ as it is called on E-Bay).” I’m sure that means a whole lot to some folks, otherwise why put it in the press notes?

Consequently or not, I will be eagerly running to view Parlow’s next offering, which hopefully I’ll relish simultaneously as I view it.

(Opens June 28th in New York City at Lincoln Center in the Francesca Beale Theater, 144 W 65th.)

Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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