A nerdy word for love
Chicago-set romantic comedy hits the Siskel
07/25/2012 10:00 PM
The Gene Siskel Film Center continues its dedication to local cinema this week with screenings of an independent romantic comedy filmed throughout the city of Chicago.
Directed by Bill Sebastian, the film Qwerty takes its name from the modern-day layout of keyboards. (The letters Q-W-E-R-T-Y are the first six running left to right on the top row of text.) Qwerty is an odd, quirky word. Itís one not used in everyday conversation. And itís one of the rare words in the English language in which the letter Q is not followed immediately by the letter U.
More than likely, everyday folk are not familiar with qwerty. Itís quirky and has no place in everyday conversation, usually. Word nerds, particularly those obsessed with the board game, Scrabble, will know it intimately, however.
Qwerty fits as this filmís title. It perfectly encapsulates the story of two awkward souls lost in the big city who find meaning and connection with each other while a Scrabble championship looms in the background.
Zoe (Dana Pupkin) is a nerdy, word-obsessed outcast who spends her days working at the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles monitoring vanity license plate requests for sneaky, profane messages like A550 RGY. (Figure it out). Marty (Eric Hailey) is a reclusive, down-and-out, angry department store security guard who lives in a disgusting rattrap. After they serendipitously cross paths in the underwear section (where Marty has erupted in a rage over the price of menís briefs), a connection forms immediately. They meet for dinner. Romance blossoms. They move in together. Love follows. All over the course of a few days.
As the relationship develops, Zoe and Marty discover that they share more than just an attraction and off-kilter worldview. Theyíre both broken by pasts that have left them emotional wrecks. The similarities drive them together and also wedge them apart. As Zoe hits her stride while preparing for and competing in the National Scrabble Championship, Marty must confront destructive demons that prevent him from moving forward both in the relationship and in life itself.
Qwerty is a mess of clichťs, so much so that it is indistinguishable from hundreds of other cutesy, independent rom-coms. Its characters are nerdy and disaffected, its hipster-ish and upbeat soundtrack is composed of twee songs and singer-songwriter tunes, its dialogue often seems as if itíll never end. Even the Scrabble championship scenes move through familiar motions.
Itís too bad. Director Sebastian is obviously talented. Stars Pupkin and Hailey and the supporting cast deliver fine performances, too. With stronger original material, they would shine.
Luckily, Qwerty looks lovely.
Sebastian and director of photography David Wagenaar capture Chicago beautifully. The cityís landscape and moods are integral to the story. A stormy lakefront being pummeled by towering waves is the perfect backdrop for inner turmoil. Harold Washington Libraryís silent, massive presence provides safety and security for the disenfranchised. The CTA allows the alone to blend in amongst other anonymous faces. Sebastian and Wagenaar undoubtedly intended for Chicago to be a vital character in Qwerty, but they couldnít have expected that it would be the filmís most interesting one.