You might not yet recognize the name Mackenzie Davis. But you might know her face. She’s scored small but memorable roles in big studio sci-fi like Blade Runner 2049 and The Martian. She made hearts soar as shy wallflower Yorkie in Black Mirror’s monumental and romantic “San Junipero” episode. She’s offered stirring and strange turns in underseen gems like the frenemy-thriller Always Shine and the parenting-drama Tully. I hear she’s great on Halt and Catch Fire, a television series I’ve never seen for no particular reason. But regardless of why you know her, know that Davis ought to be a big goddamn star, because she’s one hell of an actress. She can turn from snarlingly abrasive to profoundly tender with one blink of her eye-liner smudged lids. And in the brash yet poignant Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town, she’s leading lady/producer/force of nature.
The feature directorial debut of writer/director Christian Papierniak, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town follows a whirlwind of a girl whose broken heart has spun her into a storm of drama, snark, and self-sabotage. That Izzy is a hot mess is obvious from her outfit: clunky black slacks and unbound bowtie paired with bedhead, and a rumpled, white tuxedo jacket and dress shirt, both of which are violently stained with red wine. She’s a cater-waiter who clearly lost that gig, then stumbled home with a handsome stranger (Lakeith Stanfield, so it’s not all bad news). Together, they converse about literature and postcard collections and if they remember what happened last night. It’s a nice but odd morning, one that shows both Izzy’s passion for people, but also her desperate need to keep them at a distance. There’s a skittish energy about her, like feral critter, distrustful of human connection. And we soon learn why.
Izzy’s been betrayed. Her ex-boyfriend and her former bff are engaged to each other. Discovering that this very night they’re celebrating with a party, Izzy is beyond desperate get across town to find Roger (Alex Russell) and win him back. But getting across Los Angeles in five hours is more difficult than it might sound, especially when you’re broke and have ostracized much of your friends and family.
Broken up into sections that boast title cards like cassingle covers, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town steps us through her wonky and wild quest, laying out location, chapter names, and how much time is left before the big party. Along the way, Davis crosses paths with a string of charming co-stars. A flustered Haley Joel Osment pops up as an eccentric and needy acquaintance. Wearing a devil-may-care attitude and a Pepto-pink dress-suit, Alia Shawkat steals scenes (and some other shit) as a charming agent of chaos, whose exasperated exclamation of “Rabbit” makes for one of the movie’s most bizarre laughs. Ghostbusters’ Annie Potts offers an intimate interlude that’s bracingly bittersweet and laments “the lost art of the mixed tape.” And Stanfield brings such an inviting allure and casual cool as Izzy’s one-night stand that I kept hoping she’d circle back to him.
There’s a chaotic energy to the film, which pitches from scenes of madcap breaking-and-entering to tender confessions, acerbic wit to naked vulnerability. But this fitfulness feels fitting for a movie about such a tumultuous time in a young person’s life. It reminded me of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, another rough-and-tumble story of love and a world frighteningly full of colorful characters, possibility, and rejection. Izzy tears across L.A. like a tornado: reckless, screaming, and leaving behind a trail of carnage. Her frenzy is in turns hilarious and heartbreaking, but always captivating because of Davis’s undeniable charisma and starry screen presence.
Izzy’s doing all this to confront the boyfriend and best friend who broke her heart, then build their happiness on its shattered shards. Her pain is so richly articulated by Davis, that it’s disappointing when we finally meet this notorious two, and they’re not monsters or even all that interesting, which makes the film’s resolution feel anticlimactic, overlong, and a bit off-putting. The morning after this defining day, the shift in tone is so sharp that I kept waiting for it to be revealed as a dream sequence. Where the rest of the film brandishes bloody beating heart and razor-sharp wit, this section feels almost juvenile and basic, like it’s the remains of a far-off and better off forgotten first draft. That’s a bummer, like ending a banging mixtape with a soggy love song by John Mayer or Ed Sheeran. It’s fine, I guess. But it could have been brilliant.
Still, before all that comes a sequence so damn good, it’s worth the price of admission. Because it wasn’t just the ex and the bff who broke Izzy’s heart. Her big sister did too. They were once a band that toured in a van and almost made it. But when Virginia (a bitingly cold Carrie Coon) bailed, Izzy broke. On this desperate day, the estranged sisters collide and find a way to pick up the pieces.
Pressured to sing for a cheery Christmas party, Izzy and Virginia play one of their old songs. Their performance plays in place of a conventional conversation. They start off stiff and tentative. Their pains throb in their singing, exposed like a broken bone piercing through flesh. But as the familiar rhythms and comfort in each other’s company wash over them, the song transforms. Their physicality softens, their voices brighten. It’s alchemy. It’s magic. Its tenderness will make your jaded heart crack and grow a size or three. And it makes me wish Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town ended just five minutes sooner. Because the big love in Izzy’s life was never some broody hipster boy, it was always the sister who ran away.