The new thriller Gemini doesn't exactly take off like a rocket.
Its opening third is a bit slow: There's a famous actress named Heather (Zoe Kravitz) running around nocturnal Los Angeles with her put-upon personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke). They eat, they drink, they karaoke.
The movie achieves liftoff, though, when a crime occurs at Heather's pad, and the probing eyes of a Los Angeles detective (John Cho) fall on Jill, whose fingerprints are at the scene, though in a way that's expected – she is Heather's hands-on assistant, and her hands are on everything.
It's her job to tell angry directors that Heather doesn't want to do their dream projects, to tell others Heather doesn't feel like doing reshoots, to fend off angry ex-boyfriends and paparazzi.
Now the paparazzi are after Jill, and so are the cops, and she must use her smarts and Hollywood acumen to save her own skin. With a new dye job and a burner phone in hand, she doubles back on the events of the previous day, trying to solve the crime the police want to pin on her.
Gemini is an L.A. noir with a nod to movies past. As Jill looks for clues in the home of a friend, she passes a screening of the 1946 noir Behind Green Lights, an obscure movie with a wild plot that echoes faintly in this movie's twists and turns.
There are other references: the Bogart movie In a Lonely Place, about a Hollywood writer trying to keep the police from pinning a murder on him, and another noir classic best left unmentioned. What Gemini salvages from these movies is a sense of Los Angeles as a lost paradise, and of Hollywood as a treacherous place for the unfamous. Writer-director Aaron Katz presents all of this with a slightly ironic smile, and gives his movie a completely updated look. After the drowsy, dark opening third, Jill wakes up and so does the movie, bathed in bright colors and L.A. sunlight.
Even the truth sees the light of day, eventually. Jill turns out to be a shrewd, resourceful amateur sleuth, and Kirke (Mistress America) proves again to be a low-key but clever actress; there's a funny scene of Jill imitating another, ditzier personal assistant to learn the whereabouts of a potential suspects.
At first the flippant tone of some of these scenes seems a bit off, but the movie (full of narrative curves) eventually makes tonal sense. The movie's epilogue sends us out on a flat note, but Kirke, and her character, make an impression. In Hollywood, a good personal assistant is hard to find, and even harder to convict.