Most will recognize Alex Karpovsky, director and star of the new film Red Flag, as Ray Ploshansky from the HBO hit Girls. In Red Flag, Karpovsky remains consistent with his crafted persona: arrogant and charming, smart and angry, neurotic and death-obsessed. It’s no wonder that he’s been compared to Woody Allen; Karpovsky might substitute jazz trumpet intros in his movie for hipster indie horn sections, but the similarity is hard to miss.
Red Flag, Karpovsky’s fifth directorial effort, is a budget road-trip film with a meta twist; Alex Karpovsky plays independent filmmaker Alex Karpovsky. The character is promoting his movie Woodpecker (also the name of the real-life Karpovsky’s second film) through cities in the southern United States while nursing a post-breakup depression. Such a conceit can ride dangerously close to becoming self-congratulatory, but Karpovsky keeps it under control, with other characters consistently calling him a “pussy,” or quite perceptively, “Mr. Self-Indulgent Filmmaker.” Karpovsky adds to his own self-deprecating portrait when his character, in an effort to describe his filmmaking talents, tries to find a synonym for “gifted” on thesaurus.com. He settles on “adroit.”
While the road-trip plot is by nature a meandering one, the film does at times veer too far off course. Some scenes tend to go on too long or descend into mini-Judd Apatow sketches. Karpovsky and his trip companion Henry (Onur Tuckel) discuss oral sex and female circumcision to a point where the humour dissipates and the journey comes to a halt. Similarly, when the two female leads (Jennifer Prediger and Caroline White) get into a hair-pulling catfight, the characters lose nuance and the production falls into farce. Red Flag’s comedy is at its best when the film portrays honest emotion. The funniest moments are actually when Karpovsky is crying; his sadness is awkward, slightly humiliating, and hilarious.
Red Flag’s filming is done without much elaboration; most scenes consist of only one or two separate shots. Such simplicity gives the film a certain do-it-yourself vibe that makes the project all the more impressive. That such a low-budget film can effectively play with the tensions between fact, fiction, and existential dread — and do it all with a satisfyingly self-conscious smirk — is a testament to the capabilities of independent filmmaking.
Red Flag is available to rent on itunes.