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A long-winded and repetitive cringe-fest

Near the end of 'Gabi on the Roof in July', a tearful Gabi is told by her older brother Sam: “You're really funny, smart and intelligent.”

Which is weird, because she displays none of these attributes for the duration of this tiresome coming-of-age tale about the two siblings.

Tedious, whining and self-absorbed might be a better description or even unlikeable, uninteresting and unsympathetic.

Probably, Gabi is meant to be all these things; she's meant (I think) to represent a kind of gauche, navel-gazing stage of young adulthood when the most inane and pointless statements are pronounced as if pearls of wisdom.

The viewer is presumably meant to cringe when she declares at a roof party early on in the film that she hates art galleries because “creativity should be an approach to existence” or when she tries to make her brother strip off and take part in her self-declared “Naked Day”.

But Gabi on the Roof in July is one long-winded and repetitive cringe-fest: a depiction of pretension which ends up being pretty pretentious itself.

Gabi, 20, is a free-spirited artist and undergrad who turns up to spend the summer living with Sam in his New York City apartment in the wake of their parents' break-up.

Her brother is a decade older and caught up in the complications of his own personal and professional life: a needy girlfriend who is ready to settle down and an art career that could be about to take off.

Right from the start, Gabi demands more from Sam than he's willing to give. Desperate for his attention, she throws tantrums, flashes at his flatmate and eventually loses her virginity to one of his loser pals.

She's clearly an emotionally vulnerable young woman in need of a little brotherly support but Sam isn't really around to give it. He's too busy trying to sell his paintings and cheating on his girlfriend with an (utterly irritating) ex who broke his heart three years before.

His affair is uncovered pretty quickly but we never get any sense of whether Sam, played by the film's director Lawrence Michael Levine, feels any regret or guilt. Nor do we ever find out how Gabi feels about any of the situations she finds herself in, be it watching her brother's girlfriend break down over his infidelity or seeing the 'loser pal' lover with a different woman at another roof party.

The characters in 'Gabi on the Roof in July' seem mainly devoid of depth or motivation and most of the scenes are reminiscent of improvised drama sessions allowed to run on for too long.

The performances, one suspects, are meant to be highly naturalistic, but end up artificial and affected. And the conflict between characters, possibly unscripted, never really gets to the heart of anything. Nobody actually appears to like anybody else and that makes for an ultimately unsatisfying drama.

When his sister waxes lyrical on art, Sam tells a friend who is listening: “She's in this, like, situationist kick. She doesn't know what the f*** she's talking about.”

Later, a gallery owner listening to Sam's painful description of how he creates his art, practically screams: “I'm sorry, I cannot listen to this bulls**t.”

That certainly summed up how I felt. The only glimmer of a point I could grasp from this film was that though Gabi's pot-smoking, free-loving, near-nihilistic life might offend some sensibilities, Sam's more conventional approach to relationships was filled with no more love or meaning. I got that this movie was about shallow people who were far less profound than they thought. What I didn't get was why I was supposed to care about them.

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Published March 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm)

A long-winded and repetitive cringe-fest

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