“The Sound of Silence”: Film Review | Sundance 2019

Courtesy of Eric Lin/Sundance Institute

Peter Sarsgaard stars as a “house tuner,” providing sonic harmony to residents of New York City in Michael Tyburski’s contemplative drama, also starring Rashida Jones, that is all signal and no noise.

Move aside social media influencers, Instagram models, branding consultants for there is a new profession in the world – house tuner. An ideally cast Peter Sarsgaard plays one such specialist in the debut feature of director Michael Tyburski and co-writer Ben Nabors’ lyrical character study, the film itself adapted from their 2013 Sundance award-winning short Palimpsest. Sarsgaard irons out the discordant sonic kinks in Manhattan resident’s homes and those kinks cause depression, anxiety or stress.

Sarsgaard plays Peter Lucian, a chill, soft-spoken science geek who has taken his academic background in classical music theory into an exclusive niche in the NYC job market. His unique field evolved out of awareness of what used to be called noise pollution – taken in a precision-tooled direction based on every NYC corner having its own defining tone. As shown in his first meeting with depressed, chronically tired Ohio transplant Ellen (Rashida Jones – whose character really has no point to the story), Peter tends to meet with new clients outside their homes to avoid any impediment caused by the relationship between the subject and environment. He then does a room-by-room analysis, testing everything out from faucets, household appliances to electrical outlets against the noise filtering in from outside.

While all this goes on, Peter is also encountering professional disappointments. His longtime friend, Columbia professor Robert Feinway (Austin Pendleton) may not be as supportive as Peter wants him to be; all the while, Samuel Diaz (Tony Revolori), the assistant that helps Peter catalog his data, has his own ambitions to nurture and achieve. His dream of achieving corporate success is further shattered when an encounter with a leading specialist in audio science (Tino Benko) shuts down his taste of opportunity to take his research big. And that’s what holds the film back from being something interesting.

The issue is there is no cohesive narrative. The only thing pushing the film forward is the constant intrigue of the work that Peter does. Jones’ character has nothing to do with the overall narrative of the film as well as any of the other characters introduced to us in Peter’s life. Sure, they show how he is a struggling scientist attempting to go big with his endeavors and research yet that is what the film should have focused on. The film never goes A Beautiful Mind (although I wish it did) on us but acts as an effective character study with which Sarsgaard pulls his own eccentric performance out of… if only he was interesting enough to watch for 85 minutes.

The technical achievements of the film make it less dreary. The dense soundscape of the film is such a vital presence overall, interwoven with a beautiful score by Will Bates that includes selections from Bach, Mozart and other classic composers. And the beautifully shot final scenes which unfold during a thunderstorm-induced NYC power outage have a magical quality of hope and human connection. It also happens to be the most visually interesting section of the otherwise flat-lining film. The pacing of the film is horrid to keep you intrigued but effectively creates a unique character study over the span of a few days life into Peter.

Even the best of vinyl records begin to start skipping after a while, and once the film gives into the demands of creating a conventional narrative does it begin to feel less fresh and new than in the beginning of the film when we first meet the mysterious Peter and this new idea of work. It is an auspicious debut for Tyburski and may leave you wishing that you could hire a house tuner of your own to see how legit they are but the film is better off staying as a short-film – one that gives a signal and makes a lot of noise.

JAKKAWI: C-

“The Sound of Silence” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Category. At press time, the film is yet to find a distributor.

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Ben Labors (screenwriter), Michael Tyburski (director/screenwriter), Michael Prall (producer) at the premiere of the film; Photo Courtesy of Rich Fury/Getty Images North America

Director: Michael Tyburski.
Screenwriter: Michael Tyburski & Ben Nabors.
Music by: Will Bates.
Cinematography: Eric Lin.
Production: Anonymous Content, Feracious Entertainemtn, Group Theory, Keshet Studios, Valparaiso Pictures, Washington Square Pictures.
With: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Austin Pendleton, Bruce Altman, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alex Karpovsky.

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