Sundance Review: 'Newness' Starring Nicholas Hoult And Laia Costa

How many times have you swiped on your Tinder app today? If you use one of these dating apps chances are you have no idea and will never stop to think about it all that much. What does it mean to be able to just pick and choose people like the menu at the sushi-go-round? Love has turned into a game of extremes where people are categorized as either "Likable" or not. What does that do to our ability to communicate and trust, the building blocks upon which all lasting relationships are built? These are just some of what is being considered in Drake Doremus' quickly-developed drama, Newness, but what's refreshing is that it steers clear of being just another movie trashing our ability to love in the digital age.

To be completely honest, I figured this would be just another Disconnect, only with much prettier people in it. Instead Doremus focuses on one single couple, played by Nicholas Hoult and the extraordinary Laia Costa, who endure many of the same problems we all face when in relationships. In fact, that they met through an app is only a small part of their issues, although it gets their union off to a tenuous start. Hoult plays Martin, a New York pharmacist whose hands are always swiping away, indulging in the plentiful choices made available to him. With every successful swipe right, Doremus flashes us to a quick shot of Martin having lustful sex with her. The same occurs when Spanish transplant Gabi (Costa) swipes right, and clearly she likes dudes with beards. They use the same app, go out on multiple dates in an evening, and eventually they swipe right on one another. It's a match!

Something special happens between them, though. They actually talk, and have fun, and get to know one another. She lets him know she had just had sex with a random hookup that night, but he doesn't care. The night goes well. One date turns into two, then three, then it's moving in and..*gasp*...a mutual deletion of the app signifying their end of singlehood.

Having taken intimate looks at love in Like Crazy, Breathe In, and the futuristic Equals, Doremus has always found intriguing new angles to explore familiar territory. Newness proves to be more than its concept would have us believe, because the meat of it is in the dull period of Martin and Gabi's relationship, when things aren't so new. We've grown so used to the instant gratification those apps provide, and the promise of somebody new just a right swipe away, that building anything long-term is nearly impossible. For Martin and Gabi it means frequent arguments, break-ups, affairs, and eventually a turn towards a more "open" relationship to keep things fresh and transparent. But transparency has its own problems. Honesty is essential to making things work, but complete truth can be more painful than an easy lie.

Nothing comes easily in Doremus' films but Martin and Gabi may be the most complex couple he's ever given us. Both have their share of problems stemming from past hardships, and being monogomous proves difficult for them. For Martin, much of it has to do with lingering feelings over his ex-wife, while Gabi's issues started at a much younger age. Doremus does seem to put a lot of the fault on her as she fails to remain true multiple times along the way. But I think their biggest problem is that they fail to be honest with themselves about what they really want.

The most sexually charged film he's made yet, Doremus shoots it with energy to match, delivering intimacy while suggesting voyeurism.   He wants us to observe but not necessarily judge, and that emotional distance can be stifling.  However, this is the most complete movie from Doremus yet. I've always thought his prior work seemed like snapshots, but with Newness he goes to much greater depth. It's truly surprising where the film ends from where it began.

Just as in life, chemistry on the screen is a must and Doremus has always been able to find it. Hoult hasn't had a role this complicated before, and he gets Martin's guilt over his past actions, as well as his frustration at not knowing how to fix things. Costa will be a fresh face for some but those who saw the Spanish beauty's raw performance in Victoria (a film that was shot in a single two-hour take) will not be shocked at how easily she can shift emotional gears. Gabi undergoes the biggest transformation of all and hits a number of speed bumps along the way, but Costa makes her genuine no matter what phase she's going through.

Regardless of how things end up for Martin and Gabi, the title Newness suggests they'll always be looking to fill a certain void, no matter how happy they are at any given moment.  This may be the one time where Doremus could (and should) revisit his characters as technology changes and thoughts on love evolve with it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5