*This review was originally published at Movie Mezzanine.
The opening two scenes of Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries set the absurdist tone for the wry suspense and hilarity to come. In the first, a glove-clad man mysteriously enters the apartment of an old lady and eerily caresses her face; the setting portends violence, only for the woman to wake up and smile at his familiar face, which remains hidden to us. In the following scene, Noah (Levine) enters his own apartment, calling for his fiancée, Barri (Sophia Takal, Levine’s real-life partner) without a response. The setting again suggests a bloody discovery just around the corner until the fiancée jumps out and yells “I got you” repeatedly. This dichotomy between mystery and slapstick comedy pervades the Brooklyn-based hipster neo-noir.
Although the young and engaged Barri and Noah put a ring on it, they lack the financial means or the emotional will to get married, and still share an apartment with Jean (Alia Shawkat), their lesbian friend. Barri is jobless and Noah is a filmmaker with a never-ending series of rejected pitches. He works closely with his former girlfriend, Eleanor (Annie Parisse), who left him for another woman, and is now being set up with Jean by Barri and Noah. Their neighbor, Sylvia (Marylouise Burke), is an old lady whose age—at least 80—is a matter of dispute, a disagreement that becomes rather significant after she’s found dead in her apartment. When her son, Anthony (Kevin Corrigan), begins to act strangely, Barri becomes suspicious of foul play, leading to a rapid conversation with Jean, who concocts various scenarios for his possible motives. Noah is unimpressed, but the plot only thickens further when Damien (Jason Ritter), the womanizing artist who owns their building, gets involved. He thereby becomes a secondary suspect to Jean and Barri and the object of Anthony’s separate photographic investigation.