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Sundance Film Review: ‘Newness’

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Newness,” Drake Doremus’ drama about love in the age of the endless sex-shopping-mall hookup app, is a movie that wants to look and feel like “life.” It’s shot with a handheld camera, and with a lot of quick cuts and natural light — though this translates into every room being cast in slate-gray shadow, as if life were the ultimate designer beer commercial. (One of the film’s producers is Ridley Scott, who along with his brother Tony pioneered this sort of thing making British TV commercials in the 1980s; it’s nice to know that some traditions live on.) Gliding through the murk of existential images are a lot of very pretty millennials, notably the two leads: Nicholas Hoult as the world’s sexiest pharmacist, and Laia Costa as an expatriate from Barcelona who’s working as a physical therapist. Tale, pale, and lightly bearded, Hoult looks like Ethan Hawke 2.0, and the dark petite Costa resembles the art-house version of an erotic dynamo.

These two meet on Winx, a hookup app that each one uses on a daily basis, connecting with — and plowing through — an array of gorgeous partners as if they were fast-food meals. The way the movie presents it, it’s an always-looming orgy that beats Studio 54 on the wildest night of the year. But when Hoult and Costa get together for drinks, they discover that they actually like talking, and then they hang out and do some stuff. They delay falling into bed for what must be an entire four hours. (How romantic is that? It’s so romantic it turns the evening into what used to be called a “date.”) As for the sex…well, it’s even better than usual. This looks like a hookup that could last, so both of them delete their Winx accounts, a situation destined not to last.

Do open relationships work? In rare cases, yes, but for the vast majority of us, open relationships are doomed to crash and burn, and regardless of how much we’ve actually tried the experiment ourselves we’ve all seen movies about it. At first, it looks like freedom, but then (of course!) it breeds jealousy, possessiveness, mistrust. “Newness” explores the lures — and pitfalls — of an open relationship in the new culture of the digital meat market, but really, it’s bringing some very old news. The movie may have a moment at Sundance, but with its vague title and arty packaged angst, it will struggle to find a niche in the indie demimonde.

I’m not saying that it’s invalid to make a drama about how millennials are now having a go at their own sexual revolution. The trouble with “Newness” — and the reason it’s shot

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