In aesthetic and execution, and possibly intent, Gemini feels very Hollywood. Capital “H” Hollywood, but beyond just its setting. Yes, Gemini is set in the film world, around actresses, screenwriters, the paparazzi, and the (in)famous tell-all interview, but it isn’t only that that makes the film Hollywood. The capital “H” shouldn’t be one of place, but of emphasis, drawing your attention to all of the things about Hollywood as a place, and the people in it, to try and turn Gemini into more than the sum of its parts, into something about Hollywood, and not just set in it.
There’s some David Lynch light that seeps through into Gemini. Like with Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, where Hollywood dreams turn into nightmares, Aaron Katz’s neo-noir features murder, mystery, and a woman in trouble. There’s even a shot that feels like it was ripped straight out of Blue Velvet, when Lola Kirke’s Jill spies on a conversation through the door of the wardrobe she’s hiding in. Gemini isn’t as surreal or nightmarish as anything that Lynch has set in the city of angels, but there’s a certain shared sensibility here, a desire to look underneath the surface, to stare beyond something and into the darkness, and wonder what, if anything, is staring back at you.
On the surface, Gemini seems a little shallow. All neon lights and motorbikes, trading in stock images: sleazy paparazzi photographers, the dogged and determined detective, and, of course, the woman in trouble. These are all puzzle pieces that everyone is familiar with. They feature in most films about Hollywood, most murder mysteries, or both. But they’re used in ways that betray their surface simplicity. These predictable images lead to predictable plot beats, but Gemini slowly gets you to look closer. To look at just how Hollywood everything is.
There’s a scene where a screenwriter talks to Jill about the murder of Heather Anderson, Hollywood starlet, and Jill’s best friend/boss. He talks Jill through what would happen “if I were writing the screenplay.” He goes through a list of suspects, even crossing someone off the list because “all signs point to him. So it can’t be him.” This scene is the closest that Gemini comes to broadcasting its intentions. By setting itself among actresses and screenwriters, Gemini deliberately makes us think about the way these stories are told. Not the way that they are in the real world, but the way that they’re told in movies. Movies like Gemini.
At no point does Gemini explicitly say that it’s being self-aware, that it’s using the Hollywood setting and archetypes to say something about the story. That’s where the real mystery of Gemini lies; not in the murder, but in the (un)reality of a story like that, being told in a place like this. The characters talk like characters. In a voicemail left for Jill, the detective, played by John Cho, says “I think that you’re not telling me the whole truth.” I struggle to think that any real-world detective would say something like that. But in Hollywood, coming from the mouth of a character, I’ve heard it before, and it makes perfect sense. It’s unreal. That’s the point. John Cho’s detective even mentions, in an early scene with Jill, the idea of “one small detail” that allows everything to make sense. That makes Gemini the second Hollywood satire I’ve seen in as many days – the other being BoJack Horseman – that mentions, and then uses, that storytelling idea.
One of Gemini’s greatest strengths is that it doesn’t explicitly signpost what it is being self-aware about, or when it’s being done. It expects the audience to pick up on it, to notice when the known becomes the unknown. This deliberate evasiveness can lead to some frustrating moments and dead ends. The hotel scene that borrows from Blue Velvet, from example, is tense in the moment, but none of that tension carries over once the scene is over. Instead, it shows us that the screenwriter was right, that the guy in the hotel room couldn’t be the killer, because all the signs pointed to him. Like so many effective mysteries, all of the pieces fall together at the end, and with hindsight, one can’t help but wonder how they didn’t work it out themselves. Gemini is a slow burn, that takes a familiar LA drive on an unfamiliar route, and along the way it does something that feels more and more rare in cinema; it trusts the audience to notice things, it trusts their intelligence, and rewards them for the time they spent watching those familiar images on a familiar screen.