Perspective after tragedy can alleviate pain. As time we move farther away from an event, we gain context and can see its scope. Perspective during tragedy compounds pain. Liz W. Garcia’s One Percent More Humid is a meditation on intelligent suffering; it’s filled with characters coping with loss and heartbreak but are also seemingly well aware that their situations are both ill-fated and unoriginal. The film weaves a compelling intellectual tapestry, but without an engaging narrative to hang it on, its impossible for the film to gain enough traction to deliver those ideas to anywhere meaningful.
Unfolding over the course of a summer, One Percent More Humid centers on childhood friends Iris (Juno Temple, The Dark Knight Rises) and Catherine (Julia Garner, Perks of Being a Wallflower), wasting their days away in a sleepy New England college town hollowed out by summer vacation. Whereas Catherine’s self-proclaimed neuroticism drove her to New York City, Iris attends the local college and takes the opportunity to start working on her poetry thesis with her English professor Gerald (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle). For her thesis, Iris plans to write a series of poems on grief – something her and Catherine have been plagued with over the past year. The sun filled summer has a cloud hanging over it – the death of their friend Mae in a car accident that they survived.
While Iris’s thesis quickly turns into a torrid affair with Gerald, Catherine finds numerous ways to punish herself for the accident – she was the one driving – including putting cigarettes out on her thigh and entering into an enormously unhealthy relationship with Mae’s brother. The film meanders around these plot lines for much of it’s running time spending more time on introspection than on progressing these narratives towards their conclusions. It’s not difficult to see why – there’s never much doubt where these characters are going. Iris admits to herself at the outset that her love affair won’t end well, and Catherine knows, objectively, that there will always be people who blame people others for accidents. The real tension here isn’t that Catherine and Iris don’t know how their stories will end, it’s that they do know, but can’t help themselves. It’s a central conflict that is, like much of the film, more interesting to discuss than it is to watch.
Liz Garcia keeps the film from going completely bust by commanding powerful performances from her lead actors. Juno Temple is a powerfully talented actress, dripping charisma and proves, for the most part, able to propel the plot forward on charm alone. Her scenes with Alessandro Nivola, an actor who we do not see enough of, are the best in the film. They manage to plumb genuine pathos from a well that dried up years ago, which good actors can do. It’s a shame the script just can’t keep up.
The screenplay, also by Garcia, reads like a post-grad short story – long on symbolism, short on plot. Catherine spends much of the film refusing to swim in the local lake, a motif thick with overtones of baptismal forgiveness. This kind of heavy-handedness wouldn’t be so irksome if it were balanced with momentum. But One Percent More Humid isn’t a film that gathers steam, it meanders around with rocks in its pockets, making it difficult not to feel a bit tired by the end.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Liz W. Garcia’s One Percent More Humid is something of a mixed bag. It’s filled with rich, deeply felt performances, particularly by Juno Temple, but the film never truly finds its stride. There are some heady ideas here, but the film isn’t able to transfer the investigation of those ideas into a compelling narrative. Watching One Percent More Humid is a bit like watching a beautiful car spin its wheels in the mud. It certainly looks well made, but it never gets to where it wants to go.