The film “Wild Canaries,” directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, hearkens back to the genres of screwball comedy and film noir. Dark comedy and an examination of modern relationships intertwine in this comedic and modern take on the classic crime drama.
Barri (Sophia Takal) and Noah (Lawrence Michael Levine) are an engaged couple in New York City who solve crimes together following the troubling death of their elderly downstairs neighbor Sylvia (Marylouise Burke). When the behavior of Sylvia’s son Anthony (Kevin Corrigan) at her funeral raises suspicion, Barri is determined to solve the events behind Sylvia’s death. Further complicating their relationship, Jean (Alia Shawkat), Barri’s roommate, and Noah’s ex-girlfriend Eleanor (Annie Parisse) serve as romantic distractions for the two main characters. The couple’s landlord Damien (Jason Ritter), a friend of Noah’s with his own complicated personal problems, becomes the prime suspect in Sylvia’s death.
Barri and Noah are young and charmingly bland Brooklyn residents, and consequently deal with run-of-the-mill relationship issues that intertwine with the murder storyline. Their pursuit of the truth about Sylvia’s death serves as a powder keg that that eventually explodes, signaling a major turning point in their lives, signaling a turning point in their relationship.
A trim runtime of 98 minutes keeps the plot moving and characterization succinct. The source of the tension flips quickly between the normalcy of jealousy and overdue credit card bills to the outrageous situation in which our protagonists find themselves. Similarly, the humor of “Wild Canaries” is equal parts slapstick and quick dialogue, both showcased in equal measure and performed with equal vigor.
Levine has crafted a charming homage to classic comedy peppered with classic film references. For example, Noah originally brushes off Barry’s suspicion about Sylvia’s death as a side effect of her recent viewing of a Hitchcock retrospective. From the neon James Bond-style opening credits to Barri’s cliché disguises — complete with floppy hat, sunglasses and a trench coat — Levine uses these well-known tropes to create both humor and drama.
Comedic yet startling jump scares and a suspenseful score adhere to the humorous tone and create sincere tension. Just as classic noir films were modestly budgeted but had no shortage of creativity, so too does “Wild Canaries.” The film employs its parity with care and generally effective emotional grounding to create an entertaining dark comedy.
“Wild Canaries” opens on Feb. 25.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 25 print edition. Email Christina Tucker at [email protected].