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Joanna Arnow’s film announces an exciting new voice

Babak Tafti (left) and Joanna Arnow in a scene from “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed” (Magnolia Pictures via AP)

In writer-director-star Joanna Arnow’s “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed,” Ann (Arnow), a 30-something New Yorker, lies naked in bed with an older man, Allen (Scott Cohen), with whom she has a yearslong BDSM relationship. She tells him she’s grateful he only cares about his own pleasure.

“It’s like I don’t even exist,” she says.

Much is just out of reach in Arnow’s shrewdly perceptive and very funny new film. Love, certainly, is nowhere near Ann’s life despite a series of romantic encounters. Music is talked about — from Andrew Lloyd Webber showtunes to the team cheer from “A League of Their Own” — but seldom heard. In one scene during a tryst with a composer, Ann says her favorite soundtrack is “In the Act of Wishing for Love,” but she means “In the Mood for Love.”

Even Ann’s existential crisis doesn’t quite materialize in this unwaveringly sardonic portrait of millennial malaise. Her life plays out in a series of brief, crispy edited vignettes that jump between her drab work life and her extreme but equally drab sex life.

Obedience is pushed on her in both places, as are labels, most of which Ann quietly but not necessarily apathetically accepts. One partner (Parish Bradley) who instructs her to communicate in “a series of oinks” writes the lewd name he’s given her across her belly in marker. At work, an unseen HR gives her a new job title: “Clinical Media E-learning Specialist.” Which is worse is hard to say. After three years on the job, she’s given a one-year anniversary trophy.

How Ann feels about all of this isn’t always obvious, possibly even to her. Arnow portrays her much as she directs and edits the film, with a detached deadpan. Sometimes Ann pushes back. She tells her older lover that she’s not an Internet window he can open and close. But there’s also something in Ann that recoils against more sentimental encounters. Later in the film, she begins dating someone sweetly if naively romantic (Babak Tafti) who’s unfamiliar with the kind of bondage role-playing Ann is accustomed to. But his sweetness is more of a strike against him. Ann may be a victim of her modern, alienating environment, but she’s also a product of it. (Ann’s parents in the film are played by Arnow’s real-life mother and father, Barbara Weiserbs and David Arnow.)

But Arnow’s sensibility is much dryer and more satirical. Whether Ann can free herself of her circumstance is one thing, but Arnow, as a keenly insightful filmmaker, proves again and again that she has. How else can you explain the trenchant absurdity of the poem-worthy dialogue that runs through the film? A sexual partner whose first line is: “Thank you for forgiving me for mansplaining about L.A.” A boss who announces: “If you’re not on Spotify, you’re behind the times.” And Ann, who after debasing herself with her older lover, says, “The candles were nice,” only for him to reply: “There was just one candle.” JAKE COYLE, MDT/AP Film Writer

“The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed,” a Magnolia Pictures release, is unrated by the Motion Picture Association but contains adult nudity and language. Running time: 87 minutes ★★★

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