‘Chestnut’ Is About the Sexless Situationships of Our Twenties

If there’s one thing I was going to do in my 20’s, it was to enter a mostly sexless, definitely toxic, situationship with a couple or former couple or sort of couple. Now that I’m a wise 30 year old, I look back on these dynamics as a tool of avoidance, a way to fixate on the lives and problems of others rather than confronting my own. The sexually charged sexlessness allowed these situations to drag on, pulling us together while keeping us apart.

Jac Cron’s new film, Chestnut, follows a character with this same coping mechanism. Annie (Natalia Dyer) is a recent college graduate biding her time in Philly for the summer before leaving for a new finance job in California. One night, drinking alone, she meets Tyler (Rachel Keller) and Danny (Danny Ramirez), a chaotically charismatic woman with mean girl vibes and the sad-eyed sensitive man she appears to be dating. Tyler and Danny are not technically a couple, and yet the closer Annie gets to both of them the more confusing their dynamic — and their dynamic with her — becomes.

It’s also fun! Sometimes confusing is fun! Annie stays out late with her new friends drinking and dancing and doing drugs and listening to their other friend talk about his relationship woes. Soon enough, Tyler is talking to Annie about kissing girls, and, soon after that, kissing her.

We’ve seen the storyline of “straight girl/maybe closeted girl emotionally terrorizes a queer woman” on-screen many times. But I appreciated how that was complicated here by the presence of Danny. He’s not the typical male love interest rival. If anything, his connection with Annie is even deeper than her connection with Tyler — even if it’s Tyler she’s more into.

This is a movie that wouldn’t have a plot if its characters just talked to each other. But I think Annie knows this from the beginning. Didn’t we all at that age? We wanted the plot, we wanted the anguish. Asking the confusing girl, hey do you actually like me? is harder when deep down you know the answer is no and you want to hold onto the chaos a bit longer.

Chestnut belongs to Natalia Dyer. She creates a character whose hidden emotions sneak out with every drunken look. And her co-stars Rachel Keller and Danny Ramirez are properly elusive without feeling flat. They all feel like real people stumbling through an attempt at human connection.

While throuple movies are usually associated with sex, this film is more committed to sexual frustration. Annie is at an in between moment of her life and the whole film reflects that agitated nothingness. It’s a cliché for screenwriting professors to ask why a film takes place on this day or this month or this summer. What is it about this time period that makes it the most compelling moment for these characters? There’s something exciting about Chestnut’s refusal to abide by that rule. The film understands that sometimes our most formative moments, our most intense, overwhelming periods, take place within the uneventful. The films commitment to anti-climax won’t work for everyone, but I appreciated the realist approach to the 20-something coming-of-age story.

We learn that Annie has already experienced great loss. I’m sure someday Annie will experience a grand love affair. But there’s also weight in a toxic friendship, in a drunken kiss, in a summer of dramatic nothing.

Chestnut opens in limited theatres tomorrow. It will be available to rent on July 2.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

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