With Comic Beauty, L for Leisure Captures Nineties Grad-Student Holidays


Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman’s comic universe is a bizarre and beguiling place in which lines as incongruous as “[Soak] a tampon in vodka and…stick it up your vagina” and “Do you have Snapple?” are delivered with the same casual, tossed-off nonchalance. The duo’s previous work, the medium-length Blondes in the Jungle (2009), dropped this sensibility on a trio of self-absorbed vacationers in 1987 Honduras.

L for Leisure ups the ante with a more global scale: Shot over four years and set on a series of holidays (Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas) during 1992–3, the movie ventures from California and New York to France, Iceland, and Mexico. The flowing ensemble consists of a dozen or so restless graduate students (many of them played by non-actor friends of the directors) blowing off steam through impromptu parties, red-wine afternoons, and nutmeg-smoking sessions (“Malcolm X did it”).

Flipping between silly, seemingly lightweight conversations and rousing displays of landscape-attentive montage (the combination of 16mm and John Atkinson’s original score produces a reverie-like effect), Horn and Kalman indulge in both the trivial and the significant. The directors, both born in 1982, season these episodes with period-specific touches: discarded Capri Sun packets, “AIDS Dance” posters lining a tennis-court fence, and a Texas teen wearing a Jordan-era Chicago Bulls hat.

What makes L for Leisure more than just a collection of clever, well-photographed jokes is the utter sincerity embedded within the constant sarcasm. The most attention-getting gags — a man playing a pickup basketball game with a Miller High Life in his hand; a “race war” discussion interrupted by someone asking, “Hey guys, want some rum-raisin ice cream?” — remain weirdly, invitingly attuned to the rhythms of everyday living.