Alex Ross Perry's second feature, shot in 16mm black-and-white, is an offhand-picturesque road-trip movie with a mock-epic Northeastern itinerary. It's also a cage-match brother-and-sister act revolving around the curiously complementary relationship between JR (Carlen Altman), a defiantly unemployable broadcast-journalism major, and her younger brother, Colin (director Perry), whom she recruits as backup while she clears her belongings out of the Boston home of her professor and ex-lover, Neil (Bob Byington). It is at first a mystery to both Colin and the viewer as to why he has been selected for this task, for he and his sister have a habit of saying to each other, point-blank, the cruelest things they can think of. "You make me, Mom and Dad, and my girlfriend sick to our stomachs every time you come up in conversation," is one of Colin's characteristic tossed-off lines. Gloves-off verbal abuse, it turns out, is the mother tongue in The Color Wheel, delivered in blistering fusillades by characters far too nasty and tetchy to ingratiate themselves—though they're vividly individual monsters of id. Like Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, it's a travelogue movie about a couple whose impossible, porcupine personalities leave them safe, finally, for nobody's company but each other's.
Altman absorbs considerable abuse.
Runs Fri., July 6-Thurs., July 12 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 83 minutes.