Necessarily, life is full of comedy and tragedy. To escape the mundane aspects of existence, we rely on storytelling in all of its shapes, forms and sizes from a David Letterman “Top 10 List” to Marcel Proust’s six-volume masterpiece of human relationships, In Search of Lost Time. However, when the subject matter is playing out on our own personal stage, the jokes frequently seem funnier (except when about us) and the unexpected losses brutally baffle all sense of fairness, fate or forgiveness.
Based on Brian Udoff’s story, writer/director Jason Shahinfar’s début feature succeeds on many levels and ought to pave the way for more full-length projects.
The exceedingly difficult challenge of establishing, then maintaining an overarching tone is masterfully done. Judiciously employing hand-held camera (Udoff kept the eye engaged with his shot selection—notably the “skyscapes,”—truly heavenly in more ways than one) and home movie “back-story” footage give every frame a compelling sense of personal, private eavesdropping that will appeal to the voyeur in everyone. The deft collection of classical works to support key moments of otherwise silent revelation (without rearranging the music to suit the shot—cross-reference below) is a masterstroke of craft. From the eerily foreshadowing, angelic voices of Fauré’s Requiem to Vivaldi’s jaunty, couple-etching Mandolin Concerto to the emotional depth contained in every measure of Chopin’s E Minor Nocturne (Op. 72, No. 1), the art of others magically reinforces the narrative in a manner that plain words never could. One can only wish that more filmmakers would show the same care and respect when “borrowing” the genius of those no longer able to speak up.
The words that are heard, not surprisingly since most of the scenes rely on improvised dialogue, were a fascinating buffet of inane, thoughtful and “rapilicious” lines & rhymes that made each musical intervention all the more welcome and effective.
Neophyte Dani Niedzielski proved an excellent choice as Dani. Her mood swings were seamless and convincing; speaking volumes with her eyes clearly announced a fine actor-in-progress. The object of those stares, conversations and affections was Sam (Sam Mallo). Spending most of the film being dropped, beaten, bounced and befuddled, Mallo very nearly delivered a knock-out performance, lacking just a tad more desperate introspection to lift his characterization from good to great.
The friends and folk met along the journey into themselves were as colourful as happenstance could ask, dutifully serving their purpose: preparing the way for the crisis then climax whose resolution exceeded all of the turmoil it demanded. (There’s also some first-rate editing by Jason Li: the shift from Sam’s tattoos to clanging tailpipes to the bang and beauty of a fireworks display was a spectacular transition from country livin’ to townie laughin’.)
One can only hope that Shahinfar’s film is widely seen and that most of its audience will never live the terrible tragedy that should only happen in fiction. For the rest of us, it’s another, helpful way of bringing grim reality home. JWR