ONE PERCENT MORE HUMID — Tribeca Film Festival Review
Women can have intimate friendships with other women yet be unable to talk about what is most important to them. That’s one of the central themes of One Percent More Humid, Writer/Director Liz Garcia’s quietly powerful new meditation on loss, love, and the lives of women. The title refers to the sultry heat of summer but more appropriately applies to the unrelentingly sticky emotional atmosphere which surrounds the two young female friends at the heart of the story.
Iris (Juno temple) and Catherine (Julia Garner) were fiercely intimate childhood companions in rural upstate New York, but what unites them now is shared tragedy, which only becomes evident as the story slowly unfolds. Iris is a self-professed townie, who has elected to stay close to home, attending the prestigious college nearby, majoring in poetry, working at a local deli and living in off campus shabbiness with her sweet, harmless platonic male roommate Jack (The Get Down’s Mamoudou Athie). Catherine is effortlessly droll, hails from a wealthy family, is attending college in a big city and is “only back for the summer”. Arriving home by train, she and Iris fall into comfortable snarky banter almost instantly. They express relish at the prospect of spending the whole summer together but as they toast each other over a shared spliff, Iris states the real aim for the season — to heal. Heal from what, we don’t immediately discover, but whatever it is, it has left an indelible mark on them both.
Despite her goal to spend time with Catherine, Iris is inexorably drawn to Gerald, her 40 year old thesis advisor and professor (played with humor, world-weariness and winsome sensitivity by the always superb Alesandro Nivola). Gerald, marooned at the nearly-abandoned summer campus, acts like a man who is late to the discovery of his own attractiveness, too late as he’s locked in a marriage where he is always somewhat subordinate to his more successful (and more powerful) publishing house wife Lisette (Billions‘ Maggie Siff).
Stuck in NYC because of work, Lisette gently nudges him about whether or not he’s writing, (he’s not) missing the signs of brewing restlessness so obvious to the audience, and to Iris. Siff makes a meal of the small role as the potential cuckquean, imbuing her with sly humor and genuine emotion in what might otherwise be a throwaway character.
As Iris and Gerald spiral closer, Catherine brushes off the slight and feigns normalcy, but it quickly becomes clear she is hiding deep enervating pain. She seeks out a rough, older local boy whom both Iris and Catherine seem to know, who brims over with anger and seems immune to her attempts at communication… at first.
Garcia deftly explores the complicated nature of female friendship and the potent recognition of sexual power faced in the slippery transition period between being a girl and being a woman. She beautifully captures the languorous summer lushness of upstate New York, from the ubiquitous sea of chirping crickets to the small, stony lake at which Iris regularly disrobes for near-baptismal nude dips. The film is sharply humorous throughout, as needs be to cut through the tangled emotional threads of a story that explores the deep bonds of friendship, and individuals’ differing response to grief. Of how sexuality can be used as a weapon, a salve, or as contrition. And as Iris and Catherine struggle to connect with themselves and each other, about the way we all sometimes swim blindly through life, hoping merely to make it to the other shore.