A tale of two cities, Here and There opens in a shabby apartment that could be in either New York or Belgrade. The equivalence is intentional: Writer-director Darko Lungulov's essential insight is that an existential funk plays pretty much the same everywhere.
The sullen form that stirs in the urban hovel establishes that he's American by uttering a well-timed expletive. We soon learn that he's Robert (David Thornton), an unshaven, rooster-maned saxophonist who's too bummed to blow, not to mention pay rent.
Eviction sends Robert to crash briefly with his unwelcoming ex, played by Cyndi Lauper (the actor's real-life spouse, who also sings the final-credits song). More significantly, the crisis introduces Robert to Branko (Branislav Trifunovic), a Serbian immigrant trying to make it as a one-man moving company.
Although he's struggling, Branko has some money, and an urgent goal: getting fiancee Ivana into the U.S. He offers Robert several thousand dollars to fly to Serbia, marry Ivana and bring her back to New York. The musician is reluctant, but it's not as if he has anything else to do.
In Belgrade, Robert meets Ivana and her anti-American brother, and moves in with Branko's mother, Olga (Mirjana Karanovic). Like Robert, Olga is single, of a certain age and romantically at sea. Given enough time, the two might drift into bed together.
Back in New York, the filmmaker provides them plenty of time by contriving a series of obstacles for Branko. His van is stolen, and the fast-talking Latino mechanic who offers help turns out to be a hustler; money that was supposed to pay for the marriage scheme goes instead to a new vehicle and, eventually, legal fees.
Although more happens to Branko than to Robert, the film spends most of its time in Belgrade. While the immigrant battles malevolent New York to fulfill his plan, in easygoing Belgrade the musician finds no greater challenge than learning how to buy beer on the street. (How? Get to know your neighborhood ice-cream vendor.)
Here and There has been compared to such Jim Jarmusch films as Stranger Than Paradise, and Lungulov does emulate Jarmusch's deliberate pace, minimal dialogue, deadpan humor and strong sense of place. In fact, Belgrade is the movie's most compelling character, its tattered charm underscored by back-street New York locations that oddly evoke Eastern Europe.
But Lungulov's approach is ultimately more conventional than Jarmusch's. As Robert's malaise begins to lift, the change is revealed with corny visual cues: A fresh outlook is symbolized by a clean shave, and a restored sense of humor by a dab of whipped cream on his nose.
If this is not a typical romantic comedy, that's mostly because of its limited budget and graying protagonists. The freshest thing in the movie is Belgrade, which puts the "there" into a story that, despite its title, is otherwise neither here nor there.