In the City

Amos Lassen

While his mother is in treatment in rehab, teenager Nick (Alex Wolff) comes to New York to stay with Cal, a jazz musician and friend of his late father’s. While there, he makes friends who show him around the city and what it has to offer.

Cal is a friend of Nick’s late father—the two had been in a band together. Nick goes to school and meets several people— Russel (Tommy Nelson), a wanna-be tough guy, smug Seamus (Skyler Gisondo), and Eliza (Stefania LaVie Owen) who dates Seamus, and to whom Nick is attracted. With his new group of friends, Nick drinks, does drugs, hangs out, and is a typical teenager. But every time we see him at Cal’s apartment we’re reminded that there is something strange about him. He doesn’t sleep, and even though his father died years ago, he is still an important part of Nick’s life. 

Nick is his willing to be open, whether it be with his friends or Cal. It’s through Nick’s conversations that we learn about his mother and father. Even with everything his mother  has done, Nick remains totally loyal to her. Even though Nick has tattoos, smokes, and seems to BE A typical “troubled teen,” but he is more than that. He has a heart and shares it with everyone.


Even with the unpredictable bits, Wolff’s script is still predictable. We know that something will happen between Eliza and Nick is there early on, so we know it will turn into something and whatever else happens here, there is a reason for it later. When Nick is given the chance to just breakdown in anger or sadness, that’s when he’s at his best.

While “The Cat and the Moon” shows all external signs of being a little too indulgent, there is much more to it. Wolff has made a debut feature that is impressive in its modesty and unpretentiousness, psychological nuance and technical of an airport cab and goes to Cal’s (Mike Epps). It takes us a while to figure out this slightly awkward arrangement is happening because Nick’s mother has entered rehab back home in Detroit. Cal is a longtime friend of both parents, and was a jazz-world colleague of the late father. Nick officially requires caretaking during mom’s rehab, but is sneaky about it — he’s clearly had lots of practice in being more or less self-sufficient.

At his new school, Nick is surprised and pleased when he’s immediately befriended by a loud group of peers. He is taken a social scene that’s of heavy partying yet still within the normal teenage range — not particularly jaded, privileged or self-destructive. For Nick it is quite a change and an escape from what had been easy for him. He was used to defensively keeping his own emotions in check, he doesn’t let it out until late that he never really had friends before. There is strong mutual attraction toward Seamus’ girlfriend Eliza, the guilt over which is somewhat made easier to take when we learn that Seamus cheats on her seemingly every time he gets high.

But the pleasures of being with his new friends does not cancel out Nick’s darker emotions that minor conflicts can cause to come up. It’s very slowly revealed just how much rage and pain Nick suppresses over his father’s (possibly accidental, possibly suicidal) death some years earlier. Wolff’s performance and astute direction are excellent in the moments when Nick’s defenses become violent. It is here that we get a look at how much control it takes for Nick to function despite his parents’ behaviors, and how overdue he is for an explosion.

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