July 24, 2024 1:18 pm

Unidentified Objects
Unidentified Objects

Unidentified Objects

Convinced that the extraterrestrials who abducted her when she was 15 are finally coming back to take her with them, Winona (Sarah Hay), a bubbly young woman, asks her neighbor Peter (Matthew Jeffers), a little person mourning the death of a close friend, to let her borrow his car. He reluctantly agrees, but only if he can come along for the escapade. That’s how “Unidentified Objects,” the endearing first feature from Colombian-born director Juan Felipe Zuleta, sets these two would-be pals on a mission across the northern border and into Canada to reach a specific site where Winona will meet her alien saviors. 

Road trip movies offer an inherently ideal format for a pair of characters who would otherwise not have much reason to interact to go on a literal journey, and come out on the other side transformed by the experience. Stuck in a vehicle together, often the co-leads in this type of story slowly let their guards down and find in each other a true friend. 

Despite how overdone these tropes have become, there are still worthwhile attempts at transforming or subverting them. Unfortunately, Zuleta sticks too closely to the default formula, playing the hits without giving them much of a refreshing remix. One by one, all of the usual story beats that come with driving long distance come to pass: car trouble, a heart-to-heart chat, an encounter with other travelers, the obligatory bar scene, and ultimately a confrontation where pent-up grievances get chaotically aired out. 

The redeeming qualities, which the debut definitely has, come from the prickly banter between the co-stars, as well as some of the sci-fi-inspired dreamscapes interspersed throughout. The director finds in Sebastian Zuleta’s score another asset that lends “Unidentified Objects” an atmosphere ripe for discovery and curiosity. The electronic sounds immediately evoke an intergalactic voyage, alluding to Winona’s wish to ascend. 

Although society ostracizes them—Peter is also gay and Winona makes a living through sex work—screenwriter Leland Frankel doesn’t render them simplistically likeable or virtuous given their personal struggles, but instead paints them with jagged edges, particularly Peter, that are only mildly sanded off as he warms up to her. For all the inner turmoil that these two people radiate, however, there’s a notable lack of fuller character development because we don’t get a sense of their world beyond this quest. 

As they get closer to their rural destination, Winona’s seemingly deteriorating mental health and Peter’s deep-seeded self-esteem issues surface. She hates that he deems her crazy, while he despises the infantilizing tone and language that she so instinctively uses with him. For Peter, asserting his agency as an adult in a body that the world refuses to see and respect as such, comes across as the battle that defines his brazen personality.  

Jeffers plays Peter as a pompous intellectual with a chip on his shoulder. The actor’s commitment to the role’s acid quips yields a handful of sidesplittingly deadpan one-liners. It’s all in his cuttingly unvexed delivery. In contrast, Hay’s enchanting Winona shows almost unwavering kindness toward him, even if are perpetually aware she is in distress. At times both performers step into overacting territory, matching the not so flattering artificiality of the space odyssey-type passages where we see them wearing metallic attires. 

Everything about “Unidentified Objects” works best when at its most subdued. Take for example a scene where Peter slow dances with a burly but kind man at a bar. For a moment, in a daydream that doesn’t involve interstellar events, both the character and the actor can put down the sassy schtick and give in to a potently wistful sentiment. In the arms of that hyper-masculine love interest, Peter surrenders his self-imposed apprehensions. 

There’s no denying that Zuleta and Frankel constantly push to embellish the overly familiar frame of their project with touches of the unique, but in the end “Unidentified Objects” often resembles the exact emotional ebbs and flows of other movies, even as singular as its protagonists are. Thankfully, Zuleta conjures enough effervescent sparks to makes us invested in their search for a place in the universe, even if the path there is well-trod. 

Convinced that the extraterrestrials who abducted her when she was 15 are finally coming back to take her with them, Winona (Sarah Hay), a bubbly young woman, asks her neighbor Peter (Matthew Jeffers), a little person mourning the death of a close friend, to let her borrow his car. He reluctantly agrees, but only if he can come along for the escapade. That’s how “Unidentified Objects,” the endearing first feature from Colombian-born director Juan Felipe Zuleta, sets these two would-be pals on a mission across the northern border and into Canada to reach a specific site where Winona will meet her alien saviors.  Road trip movies offer an inherently ideal format for a pair of characters who would otherwise not have much reason to interact to go on a literal journey, and come out on the other side transformed by the experience. Stuck in a vehicle together, often the co-leads in this type of story slowly let their guards down and find in each other a true friend.  Despite how overdone these tropes have become, there are still worthwhile attempts at transforming or subverting them. Unfortunately, Zuleta sticks too closely to the default formula, playing the hits without giving them much of a refreshing remix. One by one, all of the usual story beats that come with driving long distance come to pass: car trouble, a heart-to-heart chat, an encounter with other travelers, the obligatory bar scene, and ultimately a confrontation where pent-up grievances get chaotically aired out.  The redeeming qualities, which the debut definitely has, come from the prickly banter between the co-stars, as well as some of the sci-fi-inspired dreamscapes interspersed throughout. The director finds in Sebastian Zuleta’s score another asset that lends “Unidentified Objects” an atmosphere ripe for discovery and curiosity. The electronic sounds immediately evoke an intergalactic voyage, alluding to Winona’s wish to ascend.  Although society ostracizes them—Peter is also gay and Winona makes a living through sex work—screenwriter Leland Frankel doesn’t render them simplistically likeable or virtuous given their personal struggles, but instead paints them with jagged edges, particularly Peter, that are only mildly sanded off as he warms up to her. For all the inner turmoil that these two people radiate, however, there’s a notable lack of fuller character development because we don’t get a sense of their world beyond this quest.  As they get closer to their rural destination, Winona’s seemingly deteriorating mental health and Peter’s deep-seeded self-esteem issues surface. She hates that he deems her crazy, while he despises the infantilizing tone and language that she so instinctively uses with him. For Peter, asserting his agency as an adult in a body that the world refuses to see and respect as such, comes across as the battle that defines his brazen personality.   Jeffers plays Peter as a pompous intellectual with a chip on his shoulder. The actor’s commitment to the role’s acid quips yields a handful of sidesplittingly deadpan one-liners. It’s all in his cuttingly unvexed delivery. In contrast, Hay’s enchanting Winona shows almost unwavering kindness toward him, even if are perpetually aware she is in distress. At times both performers step into overacting territory, matching the not so flattering artificiality of the space odyssey-type passages where we see them wearing metallic attires.  Everything about “Unidentified Objects” works best when at its most subdued. Take for example a scene where Peter slow dances with a burly but kind man at a bar. For a moment, in a daydream that doesn’t involve interstellar events, both the character and the actor can put down the sassy schtick and give in to a potently wistful sentiment. In the arms of that hyper-masculine love interest, Peter surrenders his self-imposed apprehensions.  There’s no denying that Zuleta and Frankel constantly push to embellish the overly familiar frame of their project with touches of the unique, but in the end “Unidentified Objects” often resembles the exact emotional ebbs and flows of other movies, even as singular as its protagonists are. Thankfully, Zuleta conjures enough effervescent sparks to makes us invested in their search for a place in the universe, even if the path there is well-trod.  Read More