Review: Rendezvous In Chicago Is a Blurry Snapshot of Love in the Windy City

Rendezvous in Chicago, the new film by Chicago-based filmmaker Michael Glover Smith, promises to be a set of comedic vignettes about love and life in the Windy City, but it ends up feeling more like a series of well intentioned cinematic misfires. Focusing on three couples at different relationship stages, the story mechanisms are fairly clear in this low-budget indie, and even though there’s some residual warmth from the team’s obvious love for Chicago and small, intimate storytelling, sixty-nine unfocused minutes gives Rendezvous the overall impression of banality, not brevity.

Shane Simmons in Rendezvous in Chicago. Image courtesy of Gene Siskel Film Center.

The first segment (concerning a couple first meeting in what ends up being the strongest section of the film) takes up nearly half the movie’s run time, and though it serves as a bit of a mission statement for what follows (observing young, romantic drama in the Windy City) it manages to feel both overly long and not nearly comprehensive enough to shoulder that burden. Though I did find some joy in a unique irony at play in the scene: the piece pivots somewhat on descriptions of dense, broad-stroked literature dealing with issues and ideas, and one character, a goofy pickup artist, bemoans how modern literature is no longer like these grand novels of epic scope, but rather small and inconsequential– he seems to be unknowingly commenting on the very small, narrow minded scene he’s currently a player in, as well as our simultaneous feelings towards his shallowness.

There seems to be some absurdity early on, an almost David Lynch-inspired tension (a television that plays what appears to be scramble porn is neither acknowledged nor discussed by a bow-tied bartender; a grad student works on her dissertation about Dostoevsky in an empty bar; a character is seemingly writing about the plot of Smith’s earlier film Mercury in Retrograde on a laptop) but that tone is quickly dropped for more conventional, meandering storytelling. Some of this invention returns in the film’s third (and weakest) section concerning a breakup, where Smith goes all-in on a head-scratching cinematic device; it doesn’t do the lone performer any favors, and delivers diminishing returns as the scene goes on, sputtering towards the film’s finale.

Meanwhile, the second scene, which concerns a couple settled into monogamous bliss, feels so dull in its content and execution that you’re left wondering what exactly Smith was intending to say. It’s here that Rendezvous‘ problems are most obvious: the dialogue is composed of surface level banter and well worn idioms, the performances never seem to relax into any sort of rhythm, and the photography, along with the technical elements, could be described using one word: sufficient.

I feel that this piece suffers from a real lack of dynamics, especially given the vibrancy of the film’s titular locale. Maybe these vignettes would have worked better as a series of separate shorts (I have a sneaking suspicion that they started as such); there’s just not enough here to warrant the feature film treatment. I admittedly have not seen Smith’s previous films, but a quick google search shows they’ve been given some decent press. I’m interested in checking out Mercury in Retrograde; it sounds like a more straightforward narrative, and maybe Smith’s musings on relationships would work better in a more traditional arc.

But as it stands, Rendezvous in Chicago is a disappointing outing from local talent.

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Matthew Nerber

Matthew Nerber is a performer and theater artist in Chicago, and a former literary contributor with the Generation, the University at Buffalo’s longest running alternative newspaper. When not seeing or making theater, Matthew can be found at the Music Box or expanding his classic rock vinyl collection. He is a 2019 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.