A great many actors have played nerds, dorks, freaks, and geeks. But when Alex Karpovsky first popped up in movies like Tiny Furniture and Beeswax, I thought: Now, there’s a geek. With his owl-eyed stare, his slightly bulgy upper lip, and the personality of an overly articulate noodge, Karpovsky came off as an intellectual dork not out of central casting but right out of reality. He seemed an idiosyncratic actor even by indie standards. But he has gotten a big break on HBO’s Girls, where he has struck a chord playing Zosia Mamet’s fulminating boyfriend, and now he is being showcased in two microbudgeted movies, both of which he wrote and directed. The more you watch him, the more compelling he gets.
Red Flag, the lighter and funnier of the two, is a quasi-autobiographical road comedy in which Karpovsky plays a lovelorn version of himself on a publicity tour for his 2008 indie movie Woodpecker. His girlfriend has dumped him, he’s brought along a pal (Onur Tukel), and he hooks up with a groupie-turned-stalker (the very engaging Jennifer Prediger). It’s conventional stuff, only executed with a smart, improv-y verve.
Rubberneck, on the other hand, plunges into the dark side of dorkdom: It’s like a homicide thriller directed by Todd Solondz. Karpovsky plays a deeply troubled Boston lab researcher who can’t shake his obsession with the co-worker (Jaime Ray Newman) who slept with him once. The movie is scattershot (intense at some moments, slack at others), but it earns its docu-style creepiness, and Karpovsky’s stretch as an actor is daring and authentic. Here’s hoping, and betting, that Hollywood takes notice. Red Flag: B Rubberneck: B (Both are available on VOD)