Retrograde explores all the tense mundanities of a down-spiralling millennial woman
By Liam Newbigging | June 14, 2023
Retrograde, from Toronto writer and director Adrian Murray, does not start off with a bang, and arguably the most conventionally exciting part of this movie (an altercation with a traffic cop) occurs off-screen. That’s because this film knows it’s not the big things that cause people to lose their hair. It’s the tiny, mundane micro-aggressions that happen to regular people every day that make them rip the fibres from their scalps.
Murray says the film “sort of feels like you are actually watching your housemate self-destruct,” which he says is funny because he, and leading actor Molly Reimann, who plays the nose-diving young professional in question, have lived together before.
Reimann (whose character is also named Molly) gives an all-too-realistic, toe-curling performance as she goes through the daily life of a neurotic woman living in the passive-aggressive world of corporate Toronto. After she moves in with her friends and is wrongfully issued a traffic ticket, she begins to spiral and obsess over the minor incident. All the while, her friend’s musings on astrology start to drive her nuts.
The execution of awkward fake-polite dialogue, which the actors all bumble over (intentionally and effectively), gives a true-to-life feeling but also some serious second-hand awkwardness. Watching Molly talk with her friend/housemate Gabrielle (Sofia Banzhaf) about the traffic incident and hearing the repetitive reassurances creates a palpable level of mutual discomfort.
The film also pulls on some of Murray’s own lived experiences. He says the reoccurring interruption of modern astrology in the film was based on a reading he had himself. He says, “I was basically at a party [like the one] that Molly’s at once, and someone gave me an astrology reading, and I really disagreed with it, but everyone out there thought it was totally spot on.”
While a similar reading occurs with Molly, it begins to drive an even bigger wedge between her and her friends. But as Molly chooses to fight the ticket and wager an all-out fake-polite war on the Ontario Court Services, the conclusion is comedically fitting of a drama so realistic.
Because we never get to directly see the inciting incident that sets off this chain of events, through most of the movie, the audience is left in the dark over whether Molly is in the right or in the wrong. Murray says, “It’s a mystery, you know? You don’t know actually what happened because we didn’t show you, so you have to see from Molly’s actions whether or not you think she believes what she’s saying.”
In the end, I was pretty sick of Molly, but I would never have thought I would be sitting at the edge of my seat over a fictional traffic ticket and bad astrology reading.