Love, in Michael Glover Smith’s buoyant roundelay Rendezvous in Chicago, doesn’t come easy for a handful of the city’s paramours, but when it does—it’s a treat for them, and us. In a sixty-nine-minute ensemble romantic comedy charting three couples meeting, committing and splitting, Smith (Mercury in Retrograde) deploys a three-act structure that pays dividends across tales of a handful of urban denizens looking for love in the right and wrong places. But they’re open to it, and looking, which is perhaps the point.
Picture’s opener finds charismatic Chicago filmmaker and actress Clare Cooney as a University of Chicago grad student at an academic crossroads. Cooney, a real presence, here strongly resembles a young Colleen Camp with acerbic brass to match. She understands that the key to allure is to underplay and draw us to her, and she’s always the smartest person in the room. The room, in this case, is a local watering hole where an overconfident, would-be suitor, played with wit by Kevin Wehby, gets more than he bargained for (namely, stripped in the name of The Brothers Karamazov) after a failed pick-up attempt.
The midsection involves a gay Chicago couple on an afternoon jaunt around leafy, far north Rogers Park, tension arriving in dual forms to break their idyllic afternoon. Soft-touch actors Matthew Sherbach and Rashaad Hall have an easy chemistry, convincing as lovers who—and anyone in a new relationship knows this is a landmine—navigate a “must love dogs” test. And of perhaps equal importance, a delicately question of long-term commitment is raised, offering Sherbach a genuine heartstrings moment.
The final segment, and the most uproarious, features a category four hurricane of an actress named Nina Ganet—remember that name—who looks and sounds like the back-talking, former indie star Natasha Lyonne. After being jilted by her louse of a boyfriend, Ganet abruptly tosses him out before coopting the viewer—in an extended, direct-to-camera address—as confidante and a potential new love interest. Ganet, aware of this convention’s absurdity, confidently sells the film’s funniest lines, including howler about her favorite word— “motherfucker”—but, she assures us, “usually with a positive connotation.”
There’s physical comedy here that gets big laughs—including the stuffing of two cupcakes into an open mouth—but also inspired, improv-feeling solo work that always knows it’s designed to get an audience reaction yet somehow never betrays the character. From her explosive opening confrontation to an endearing, extended dance with the camera, and us (“I hope you don’t think you’re some kind of rebound”), Ganet lets her considerable comic chops rip.
In Rendezvous in Chicago, Smith and his talented stable of local actors remind us that storytelling, more than anything, is about a well-written screenplay, engaging stars (with whom he generously gives ample close-ups and minimizes cuts as to allow sustained moments to build character) and recognizable human interaction. He also has a fine feel for his city, penning a movie love letter to its generosity of spirit, fully articulated in the second segment as a wistful Hall hazes upon Lake Michigan, observing, “I think Chicago is the greatest city in the US.”
Clearly, Smith—and his young lovers—agree.
3 1/2 stars.