What to call the people in this film (coming to NWFF in a couple of weeks)? They're white young Portland people who are part of that peculiar, self-infantilizing tribe whose patron saint is Miranda July. The kind of people who live together in beautiful old houses, are fond of beer and cocaine, play with keyboards and drums, and fetishize the totems and styles of their youth. They play kickball and dodge ball. They wear bright striped socks, v-necked sweaters, and poofy parkas in primary colors that are adult versions of their elementary-school wardrobes. They are responsible for the explosion of childish foods in trendy neighborhoods: hot dogs, corn dogs, cupcakes, ice cream. They are the reason you'll find tater tots and elephant ears on barroom menus. (Up next: cotton candy.) They like crafts and domestic projects that remind them of the chemistry sets, microscopes, and portable tape recorders of their childhood. (Remember when tape recorders were primarily for recording things and not listening to things? Back when you used to make little radio shows for yourself instead of listening to other people's music?)
They aren't rockers. They aren't hipsters (if that word even means anything anymore). They're latter-day children, the Regressors*.
The Regressors have one massive aesthetic problem: sex. Sex is incongruous in their self-infantilizing, elementary-school world—the eight-year-olds they want to be (sharing a corn dog after a sweaty game of dodge ball) aren't supposed to be having sex. So when it comes to carnal matters, they bump up a few grades and revel in middle-school awkwardness. (A strong current of sexual ambiguity also runs through the world of the Regressors: they keep the innocent, bisexual experiments of kids who haven't yet learned about the binaries of gay/straight/man/woman. This would be a sexually progressive position if it weren't couched in a form of self-retardation.**)
You can see the Regressors' trouble with sex in movies like Field Guide to November Days, a series of sexual couplings and de-couplings, gay and straight and ambiguous, among the latter-day children of Portland.
There aren't many words in this film—the characters are almost pre-linguistic, refusing to articulate their sexual feelings. They just pour whiskey and kiss and rub against each other on beds with cute, retro sheets beneath cute, retro paintings (of bunnies eating lettuce, for example) in '70s color schemes.
Watching the sex scenes is a little weird, not because they're especially hot or especially awkward (they're pretty plain) but because watching the Regressors have sex is like watching children have sex—children who are way, way too young to be having sex.
Watching them smoke and drink and ride bikes without helmets is also a little weird. You want to tell them to be careful, to give them a lollipop and take them to the zoo. Which they'd probably love.
They not only reject adult tastes and styles (you'd never catch one of 'em drinking a Manhattan), they reject adult technology. Except for one trip to the coast, the film was made entirely by bicycle. Cameras, furniture, people—everything was hauled around on two wheels. (Which is great: I've got nothing against bicycles. But it's consistent with the self-infantilizing.)
That said, the movie is beautifully shot with nice light and nice repetition of angles—beds, couches, and porches shot in the same way over and over again to give the Regressors' lives the feeling of a lulling loop. They never progress. They never change. They're locked (for the moment) in a Never-Never Land (with beer and cocaine!) of their own devising.
Behold! The Regressors!
They're coming to Seattle (by bicycle, I think—for real) on June 14.
*For the record, Bethany Jean Clement coined this phrase. I was going to go with "Latter-Day Children," but hers was better.
**If you want to get really into it, you could read this whole phenomenon through the cosmology of William Blake and especially his Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (Marriage is one of the greatest, weirdest hybrids of poetry, philosophy, and theology ever written—it's totally bananas and if you haven't read it, do yourself a favor.) Blake imagined human progress as moving from innocence to experience to an elusive higher innocence—the best of both worlds. The Regressors might have been on the cusp of achieving a higher sexual innocence (purity and pleasure in some kind of exalted state I can't imagine), but instead they went backwards. So they're not getting anywhere.