We check out another trio of recent shorts.
Reviews by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)
In narrative terms, the short film is liberated by its unsanctioned length. In contrast to the 90 minute/two hour mandate of a feature film’s running time, which can give way to bloat and extraneousness (especially in the realm of low budget indies striving for authentic dimension), the short is allowed to tell its story at whatever pace and timings the plot entails. A case in point is Jeffrey Palmer’s superlative drama Split Costs, which takes 24 minutes to first charm, then devastate, before the credits roll and leave you with a lovely, earned glow inside; offering a masterclass in economy, and succinct emotional storytelling.
A road movie in the purest sense (where the journey is far more significant than the destination), we follow strangers Emma (Mela Hudson - a rock chick more ‘Blondie than Beyoncé’) and Judy (Tori Hall - more conventional than her grungey counterpart), sharing a ride across Massachusetts. Emma is hoping to reconcile with her alcoholic mom, and Judy to surprise her girlfriend on her birthday. It soon becomes apparent that, aside from needing to split the cost of gas money, the subconscious reason for Emma advertising for a lift share is company. This odd couple are two disparate souls, thrown together by circumstance; who knows, maybe they can discover a thing or two from each other?
The chemistry between the two leads (both excellent) is palpable, and the dialogue flows naturally, as steady and fluid as Emma’s car cutting a swath across state. Palmer’s screenplay demonstrates attentive and deliberate writing, specifically building character in the film’s first minutes and meticulously setting us up for impactful twists and plot points later (like when straight laced Judy opens the glove compartment for - yikes! - Emma’s gun to tumble out). The ‘lift share’ conceit is an intriguing character dynamic (also recently exploited in the Brit Sit-Com Car Share, whose Siân Gibson is, weirdly, a dead ringer for Tori Hall), and one that is explored with confidence in this moving and surprising drama. Wonderful.
It's Not You
There are more fractious mother and daughter relations to be found in Sophie Peters-Wilson’s It’s Not You, wherein a young girl (Abigail Spitler) informed of her parent’s decision to divorce, thinks back over moments shared with them.
A sketch at just under four minutes, Peters-Wilson’s film elegantly captures the gradual unravelling of a relationship, with the girl’s flashbacks conjuring up imaginative associations; a memory of watching her mother carefully applying lipstick segues to recalling the moment when her father was caught with lipstick on his collar (which tells a tale on him!).
When you think back to your own childhood, the most vivid memories are polarised: either the seemingly best or worst events are recalled, depending on how we choose to remember. This is true of It’s Not You, with the short exploring the bias of memory - the girl’s present context throwing either fresh light or shade on seemingly innocent recollections. An interesting exercise in subjective film making, which is only slightly ruined by the incongruously upbeat EDM that chugs away throughout.
And, to bring things full circle, Becca Roth’s well-meaning but studenty short Yeah, Love provides another tumultuous Sapphic relationship, with indie kid misfit Emily (Crystal Franceschini) in love from afar with ostensibly straight Milo (Paton Ashbrook). Well, I say love, but actually, with the film playing Emily’s character for laughs, and her voiceover so laden with knowing irony, I felt sure that the short was heading for the sort of outsider defaming that Todd Solondz executes so cruelly. Emily is just as superficial as the jocks she hates but Milo favours (Emily also objectifies Milo by banging on about the beauteous co-ed’s ‘smile’ and ‘eyes’), and her infatuation with Milo seems to be born from her very insularity, with the plaintive loner projecting unrealistic ideals on to her object of affection.
Love can be a form of psychosis, where we romanticise mere mortals into divine saviours of our circumstances and own personality, willing them to be more than they could possibly be: the answer to all of our problems and issues. Unlike Split Costs, which reminds us that companionship can only be established when we accept people for who they are, not the model that we demand they could be, Yeah, Love evens out into a wish fulfilment scenario. Just as the idea of Emily as sociopath began to intrigue me, the film neatly tied its ideas into a quixotic bow of a happy ending that gives no convincing reason as to why the urbane Milo would end up with daft Emily. Oh well.