Tramps, currently available on Netflix, is a sweet, slight, and short film — the actual runtime is barely 80 minutes — that was seemingly made for streaming on a lazy afternoon. A fresh spin on the Roman Holiday/Before Sunrise model, Tramps follows two beautiful young people who meet by chance, walk around a city, and fall in love within the span of a day and night. Where Tramps diverges is the incorporation of a heist/con element gone wrong, which is responsible for bringing these two beautiful young people together in the first place. Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten) aren’t roaming around New York City (and Scarsdale’s affluent leafy green neighborhoods) for the pleasure of each other’s company, but because the wonderfully naive Danny, pulled into a questionably legal briefcase exchange in place of his brother, naturally grabbed the wrong briefcase. Ellie, the wonderfully jaded con artist, decides to stick with Danny as he tracks down the owner of said briefcase, because she’s been promised by her boss that if she brings him to the final location along with the correct briefcase, she’ll get a bigger payday. With about five dollars to their names, Danny and Ellie sneak around (and inside) the mansions of Westchester, trying to find the owner of the briefcase (courtesy of a name and address on a bottle of pills conveniently left inside).
This scenario is simple enough, which means that Tramps derives its more positive aspects from its lead performances. The pair of youngsters at the film’s center are delightfully mismatched: while Ellie has become cynical through variously referenced dealings with unsavory men, Danny is utterly without guile, making him perfectly unsuited for this kind of deal. Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten have phenomenal chemistry, aided by well-crafted, naturalistic dialogue, and the development of their rapport is believable. Danny is clearly dazzled by Ellie — and more than a little intimidated by her — while Ellie slowly comes to find Danny’s simple, fundamental goodness surprisingly necessary even as it initially throws her off balance. As I’m not a New Yorker, I can’t tell you whether Turner’s accent is authentic, but I can tell you that he certainly has managed to hide his British accent. His loose body language provides a clear physical contrast with Ellie’s tenser and sharper movements, one of several signifiers that tell us about these characters with just a glance. Van Patten, for her part, is magnetic, with large, watchful eyes and a quick, wry manner; it’s very easy to see why Danny is all too ready to fall at her feet. Once the initial annoyance and desperation wear off, Danny and Ellie become more and more charmed and fascinated by one another, culminating in a prettily-shot montage of the pair walking around a theme park at night, intercut with a flirtatious conversation about Danny’s past sexual experiences. A night in a pool shed spent cuddling to keep warm is the cherry on top of their first day together. The second day, when they return to the city to complete the job, is when their sudden and tentative romance is tested.
The aspects of Tramps that don’t work as well are things that could have perhaps been solved by fleshing out the screenplay. It’s not exactly clear how this briefcase deal even came about — we don’t get to find out what is in the correct briefcase until the end of the movie, and the reveal leads to more logistical questions rather than answers. How did a bunch of small-time criminals get access to an expensive white-collar heist like this one? What is the relationship between Danny’s small-time con brother Darren (Michal Vondel) and Scott (Mike Birbiglia, utterly miscast and the closest thing this movie has to stunt casting), who enlists Ellie in the first place? We are supposed to accept the basic premise that leads to Danny and Ellie having to work together, but the premise itself is based on flimsy constructions and underwritten connections. Because characters like Darren and Scott are merely there to move the plot along, it’s hard to care about them when they’re on screen. It’s lucky that Turner and Van Patten are so magnetic together, because otherwise, Tramps wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.
Some directorial flourishes from Adam Leon, who also wrote the screenplay, do liven up the look of the movie even if they aren’t totally successful or logical: an early sequence where Ellie and Danny have first met and are awaiting further instructions in a car is shot in one long, handheld take, which has the effect of feeling like holding one’s breath, transferring the diegetic tension to the audience. Leon seems to favor longer takes in general; a particularly amusing early conversation between Danny and Ellie is shot from a very high angle, whereas a normal strategy would have been a simple shot-reverse-shot of the character’s faces and responses. In fact, several key sequences are shot from this angle, which has the effect of distancing the audience from Danny and Ellie — a strategy that unfortunately does not work in the film’s favor; since so much of Tramps depends on Turner and Van Patten’s interactions, not being able to see them emote ultimately weakens these moments. Still, though, Tramps is overall a winning film, proving once again that some of the best romantic comedies can be light on plot: all we need is an excuse for beautiful people to fall in love.
Tramps is available on Netflix
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Deborah Krieger is a freelance arts and culture writer and nascent art/media historian and curator. She can be found at www.i-on-the-arts.com and on Instagram @debonthearts.