In The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, Ann, a lugubrious New Yorker, sleepwalks through her daily life––colorless job, perennially disappointed parents––while maintaining a long-term sub/dom relationship with an older man. She visits her Jewish family, goes to yoga, and attempts some Internet dating. Invariably she winds up in her boyfriend’s lifeless brownstone. Executive-produced by Sean Baker, this is the feature debut of writer-director Joanna Arnow, a Brooklyn-based actor and filmmaker who made a name for herself as a wry observer of millennial sex lives and stasis with a couple of award-winning shorts: Bad at Dancing (2015) and Laying Out (2019). In Dancing, Arnow sat naked on the floor, casually asking for advice from a friend having sex right in front of her. The sense that everyone around you is getting their shit together (and maybe getting laid) is present again here; yet eight years hence, it arrives with the added humility of lived experience.

Developed from a semi-autobiographical screenplay, Passed emits a more endearing, much funnier vulnerability: the kind of jokes that seemed a bit too knowing and cynical in her earlier work now land with delightful fatalism. Arnow stars as Ann, the thirty-something woman in the kind of soulless, mid-level corporate job where a boomer boss calls a meeting to tell you to get on Spotify. Her world is a mosaic of micro-observations: an instant curry that looks like dog food, squeezed from its sachet to the very last drop; the self-satisfied chuckle of someone listening to a podcast on their headphones; a yoga class that’s been Live Laugh Loved to within an inch of its life. Fish in a barrel? Perhaps, but Arnow manages to bring something fresh by simply being so quick and precise: some vignettes last for no more than a few seconds, sometimes cutting just before the punchline.

Ann is often just a passive observer––as a subjugate to these small everyday absurdities, in a way, as she is to her master. That relationship provides a through line for the film’s series of moments and, in Allen (Scott Cohen), its chief antagonist. Arnow opens on a shot of them in bed, Allen asleep and snoring as Ann dry humps his leg. (“I love how you don’t care if I cum,” Ann dirty talks––if basically to herself.) Though the relationship is as casual as it is transactional, it’s revealed that they’ve been seeing each other for over ten years. While Arnow mostly plays it for laughs, there is a stinging sort of sadness––the film isn’t kink-shaming, of course, but it is being straight-up about how a relationship of this kind might affect other things down the line. Later on, through an Internet date, Arnow has Ann face the prospect of meeting someone she connects with who is relatively vanilla (played perfectly by Babak Tafti, who appeared as the Azerbaijani investor, Eduard Asgarov, in season two of Succession).

It’s a wonderfully distinctive debut by Arnow, who lays it all out in both her script and performance. Cinematography by Barton Cortright is just as clean and specific as his work on The Cathedral, a fine match for this film’s forthright spirit. Appearing as themselves, Arnow’s parents bring whole other layers and energies to an already singular, richly personal work.

The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Grade: B+

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