The final film I was able to see for the Newport Beach Film Festival was this fun little indie called Arlo & Julie. I really enjoyed it. With a neat story, very likable characters, and a soundtrack consisting mostly of old jazz to better evoke some specific films and filmmakers that I see as likely influences, Arlo & Julie has a lot of what I like to see in smaller films that I can only hope to see reach a larger audience at some point. It does just enough to set it apart from other films, but also has plenty in common with the quaint little indies that I tend to like a lot.
Alex Dobrenko and Ashley Sillers stars as the titular Arlo and Julie, a couple who are clearly very fond of one another. They live together in Austin, Texas and work simple enough day jobs, before coming home to spend time with each other, listen to jazz, and work on other projects (Arlo enjoys writing about history). Their world is quickly rocked by an obsession that develops due to the arrival of random puzzle pieces in the mail. With only the knowledge that these pieces are doubling in number, with every daily envelop that arrives from some undisclosed location in Mexico, Julie and Arlo pretty much shut themselves off from the world, as they consider why they are being sent these puzzle pieces and what secret it could unlock.
I have already made this plot sound way more epic than it actually is, but something I really enjoyed about Arlo & Julie is the fact that it takes fairly ordinary people (who easily fit in a stylized world consisting of quirky characters) and throws them into this mystery plot, while still keeping everything fairly grounded. Dobrenko and Spillers have very easy-going personalities and their chemistry is quite strong, which makes it pretty acceptable, as far as seeing them both bond and argue about this puzzle that has entered their lives. But even with this central mystery plot, the film still has time to add some extra layers of fun, which ties into the film easily enough.
The supporting cast is not too expansive, but it does not need to be either. Hugo Vargas-Zesati and Mallory Culbert also star as Rob and Trish, an exceptionally weird couple who are friends with Arlo and Julie, and add a zany energy to the film. “Zany” is maybe the one word that best describes them, but I liked how their relationship was some kind of bizarro world version of Julie and Arlo. Chris Doubek is also featured as Bill the mailman. Bill may not be clued into what is going on, but he has the kind of friendly interest in this couple that have become very excited about getting the mail every day, which turns him into a natural counterpoint to keep things in perspective as far as the real world versus this mysterious and obsessed reality that Arlo and Julie find themselves in.
Writer/director Steve Mims does a very good job of telling a story that is as developed as it needs to be, without adding too many complications. The mystery is not the deepest one will ever find, but it is a fun launch point for examining this couple and what they really make of each other. It helps that the film is very charming and funny. The dialogue has a snap to it that reflects early screwball comedies, as well as the 70s era of Woody Allen. The music certainly reflects that last bit, but so does the quick-pacing and ease of which the film bounces in and out of its light humor, while remaining enjoyable throughout.
Arlo & Julie hit me the right way. It is a good-natured story with a nice little mystery at its core. What the puzzle pieces are and who sent them may be the main draw, story-wise, but the film comes to life based on the presence of Arlo and Julie. They have aspects to their characters that make it easy to like them and find them interesting; though seeing a film that challenges their relationship is the kind of thing needed to provide some cinematic weight to the proceedings. It only helps that the film has enough pieces to put together, with fine results to check out in the end.