37 is the kind of movie you expect to be something great based on the premise alone. In an age where it feels there is more urgency than ever to report crimes and support victims, a film like 37 could be a great help in urging even more people to exercise basic human decency and strive to provide others with the ability to exist as they themselves wish to exist. I say “could” because that is what should happen, but I highly doubt that is going to be the case with this woefully misguided film.
Telling the true and incredibly depressing story of Kitty Genovese, a New York City resident who was brutally murdered in Kew Guardens as 37 neighbors and onlookers did nothing to intervene, the debut feature from Puk Grasten approaches the well-tread material from the experiences of three people who witnessed the crime. It’s an initially intriguing idea that quickly devolves into sequences that all seem to linger just a bit too long. There is an almost immediate lack of urgency to the writing, and despite a brief 72-minute runtime scenes drag on somewhat aimlessly until the night of the incident.
The residents of Kew Gardens are varied and familiar, each exhibiting a slightly more self-absorbed view of the world while living out lives of quiet frustration. There’s tween outcast Debbie (Sophia Lillis), who lives with her Jewish grandparents George (Thomas Kopache) and Florel (Lucy Martin); there’s a white couple, Mary (Maria Dizzia) and Bob (Jamie Harrold), stuck in a broken marriage while their son Gonzales (Adrian Martinez) distracts himself with an alien obsession; then there are the new residents Archibald (Michael Potts) and his pregnant wife Joyce (Samira Wiley), who also happened to be among the few people of color at Kew Gardens. Everyone’s lives intertwine unimportantly and none of it really matters all that much because it’s all largely based on speculative fiction rather than facts.
And this is where 37 loses its way. Grasten not only fails to offer any insight into the victim herself—offering just one brief conversation between Genovese and Debbie to establish her existence in the story before she’s murdered—but she also finds no purpose for her fake character to exist other than to showcase several disconnected short stories about people too blinded by their own struggles to give a damn about another person. It’s a bold attempt to deconstruct how such an alarming act of neglect for human life could come to pass, but what little basis it does manage to find in potential reality is lost amidst a sea of meandering melodrama that eventually adds up to nothing. You feel as disconnected from the material as Grasten wants you to believe the residents of Kew Gardens felt that night.
The cast does what they can with the material, but there are limits to what conviction can help convey. The technical aspects are all nice, but a shiny coat of paint can only hold you for so long. You want to applaud the attempt to take a fresh approach to a story told many times before, but… you get the point.
Some of you have seen an episode of Law and Order: SVU about this same event, or maybe you saw James Solomon’s documentary The Witness, and if you have then you’ve already seen the best retellings of this story that exist. Viewing 37 is not only unnecessary, it’s guaranteed disappointment.