I remember being in the Bowery during Hurricane Sandy when the lights went off, and everything went dark. I remember being herded into the only building in the area with emergency power alongside with my other New York University classmates. For a week we lived there, a wash of unwashed college students living off powered eggs and bottled water. But I also remember thinking how well we had it. Across the river in Queens over 100 people lost their homes to fires. Throughout the city over 40 people died from the power outages and the flooding. It was a difficult week made bearable by a small army of police officers, firefighters, emergency service providers, and volunteers who fixed our city.
Of course, if you watched Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf’s 3rd Street Blackout you’d probably think that Sandy was a minor inconvenience, more of an annoyance than one of the worst natural disasters in the city’s recent history. Nothing hammered that home more than an early scene where Mina (Farsad) and Rudy (Redleaf), a well-to-do hipster couple, walk along the East River looking for cell phone service shortly after the blackout. After calling their parents and reflecting for a microsecond on the fact that people lost their homes in the hurricane, they immediately start mocking the other people looking for cell service because of the funny way they hold their phones up in the air while looking for a signal.
Here’s the central disconnect in 3rd Street Blackout—it uses the eponymous blackout as window-dressing for a sickeningly twee, utterly derived Baumbach-esque romantic comedy. The entire plot could have worked fine if there hadn’t been a blackout in the first place: Mina almost cheated on Rudy with a wealthy investor, Rudy gets understandably angry, Mina tries to fix things. Nobody they know gets hurt or displaced by the storm. The closest they get is a friend of Mina’s who momentarily runs out of insulin. The first night of the blackout while people died all over the city, Mina and Rudy go to a fully stocked bar where they’re serenaded by candlelight by a jazz trio. There’s a throwaway gag about Mina snatching the last couple of condoms from a local bodega, but with the exception of electricity and chilled beer, scarcity is never an issue. At one point Mina even brags that she gained 22 twitter followers the night the city’s power generators literally exploded.
I’m no fool. I know that other parts of Manhattan didn’t get hit as hard as Lower Manhattan by the storm and the blackout. There were plenty of areas on the island where there weren’t police curfews at night and looters. But you can’t ignore these realities if you want to center your film’s appeal on a natural disaster. Imagine a hipster romcom taking place a few miles away from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina entitled Drenched. It doesn’t help that the characters are a smorgasbord of annoying, aggravating personalities who may seem funny in short web videos or satirical segments on The Nightly Show (hi Jordan Carlos), but in large doses come off as spoiled, bratty, and occasionally sociopathic. When a character wins a competition and unironically tells the losers to “Go f**k themselves,” we don’t find it charming, we find it hateful. When several characters humiliate a young black boy trying to make some extra money by delivering messages, we don’t find it quirky, we find it downright despicable.
3rd Street Blackout isn’t just horrifically tone-deaf, it simply isn’t entertaining. In true cringe-humor fashion, it mistakes awkwardness for comedy and abrasiveness for something endearing.
Farsad and Redleaf have superb romantic and comedic chemistry, but it’s wasted on such a misguided, unpleasant film. I have no problem with hateful films about hateful people. But where 3rd Street Blackout goes wrong is in its assumption that it’s cute and winsome.