Film Review: 3rd Street Blackout

The nonstop wit and graceful evocation of Manhattan’s Hurricane Sandy aftermath stamp this absolute charmer as an instant classic.
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The New York City blackout of 2012, engendered by the ferocious Hurricane Sandy, was indeed a doozy, severely affecting half of Manhattan below 42nd street while people uptown still had full electrical power and were completely unaffected. A Greenwich Village resident—and not one for needlessly roughing it—I scurried uptown to the refuge of a friend, who luckily lived on 90th Street. But I always wondered what the "other half" was doing in the downtown I deserted, as tales of crazy parties—and sudden, lovely camaraderie blooming between fellow sufferers—reached my ears.

Here to answer that question is 3rd Street Blackout, a romantic comedy written and directed by Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf, which centers around a Lower East Side couple, Mina (Farsad) and Rudy (Redleaf), who endure that powerless blight for days. They are the echt cool nerd couple, with him a software developer while she is a neuroscientist who has just returned home from giving her first TED talk and is jubilant because she got major funding for her future projects. What she is reluctant to tell devoted Rudy is that this is coming from Nathan (Ed Weeks), a sexy Brit venture capitalist with whom she trysted. The blackout suddenly hits, and when Nathan shows up at their “rotting food party,” Rudy figures out the truth and furiously goes AWOL. A distraught and guilty Mina then sets out in pursuit of her brainy, betrayed man, her formerly idyllic Poindexter Paradise now severely threatened by Nathan and the new, sexy and very solvent world he represents.

With the exception of His Girl Friday, I cannot think of any other film delivering so many laughs in its first few moments as this one. The filmmakers have created a vibrantly humming little urban world consisting of a lot of smarty-pants folk exchanging perfectly timed, rapid-fire geek banter that spills out with a fetching spontaneity which is frankly side-splitting. The chief perpetrators are Rudy and Mina, who, completely and quite wondrously “off the grid” during this powerless disaster, entertain themselves and each other with funny, hapless rap battles, as she does her best to cover her straying butt by laughing off a telltale, intimate photo of her and Nathan—Facebooked, of course—by saying that he’s gay, desperately nicknaming him “Gaythan” (and we all know what they can get away with.) The opening scenes of her all nervously newbie at the TED conference, while he triumphs with two supremely nerdish pals at a Hackathon, the grand prize of which is a huge used trophy, beautifully sets up the film with major hilarity.

The ever-mordant Janeane Garofalo pops up as a TED veteran guide for Mina (“Does it get any sexier than a neuroscientist who creates cyborg cockroaches? Don’t answer—that’s a rhetorical question. But does it?”). Meanwhile, at the Hackathon, the host exhorts Rudy and the other assembled geeks to “bring an app to me that disrupts everything so hard it tears an anal fissure in the tech world's rectum!” Things calm down a mite during Mina’s search for Rudy, wherein, sans technology, she realizes there is a whole Manhattan world out there beyond her hip bohemian circle—scrappy kids, hardworking if disgruntled minorities that do not have fancy college degrees, old people, even. And how stupid does everyone look, holding up their cellphones to desperately get reception by the East River?

Throughout, the direction is as graceful and marvelously aware as the writing is snappy, and the blackout days are recreated with a nostalgic affection—candle-lit bars where small live bands play acoustically and everyone waves sparklers and dances—which stamps the film as a small classic. Farsad has killer, delicate comic timing and an amusingly plaintive quality, evoking a too-smart Jean Arthur, as well as a piquant bespectacled resemblance to a Margaret Hamilton with sex appeal. Redleaf plays something of a dream guy for city spinsters—just cute enough, intelligent and very caring—but keeps Rudy from being too much of a paragon with his engagingly off-kilter style. A host of colorful, gabby and surprising actors round out the cast with layered richness, and I would particularly like to single out Phyllis Somerville, who is incredibly engaging—as well as beautiful in the surgery-eschewing, natural way that is the glory of so many wonderful, older New York ladies—as Rudy’s neighbor, who gives Mina an assist in her manhunt.

Click here for cast and crew information.