Saturday, June 28, 2014

Seahorses (2014)

Seahorses world premiered a couple weeks back at Dances with Films. It’s a film that needs to get out and find its audience so it can dance around and through their lives.

The film is the story of Lauren and Martin who met through Craig’s List. They have returned to Martin’s apartment after a night out. As the film opens she is hesitant to really go in; he assures her just wants to the company. She warns him that she probably shouldn’t come in, that there are times one shouldn't let strangers in. We get the sense of a great darkness hiding behind her eyes. She eventually does come in, making her way to the bathroom. Revelations begin immediately for the audience, and less quickly for the couple as we see that they are both deeply damaged souls looking for something. Both, it seems, have more emotional baggage than is allowable by law. The question is: will the pair be able to navigate the evening and find — perhaps if not "the one" — but someone they can hold on to?.

Seahorses is a grand dance between Lauren and Martin. Will they crash together or will their respective bits of baggage — his neediness or her need to constantly protect herself — ruin a potential real relationship? It’s never really clear, especially since the tone is never really full-on romantic. If you walk into the film blind, as I did, you really can’t be certain where this is going or how it will ultimately play out. Cliché it is not (you don't know how good it is to say that).

From my point of view, this is a really good solid film that says so much about today's existence and relationships. If you need proof, all you need do is watch the first half hour which plays out as a kind of twisted version of what seems to be most dates today, two people together but not together. You know what I'm talking about — two people on cellphones, not interacting with each other, but rather with other people somewhere else in the universe. He's in his living room or kitchen trying to coax her out; she is in his bathroom, refusing to leave. They don't talk face to face but via their phones. It’s a clever twist — especially since so much cellphone action these days seems to involve people not talking to a person but staring at a screen and tapping.

The script by director Jason Kartalian is good enough that with a few adjustments this could play very nicely on a stage as a kind of updated version of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune. The film scores points in giving us two people who are closer to real than to Hollywood’s idea of romantic couples — even McNally's idea — since these are very broken people.

While I have a few small reservations with bits of Kartalian's script, his directorial choices are largely first-rate, with a color scheme that matches Martin's aquarium and the staging of several visceral exchanges between the two would be lovers done with a surgical skill that exposes just how raw and broken they really are. Frequently it's Kartalian's staging of the action that speaks louder than his words and allows his actors to reveal hidden layers with looks, postures or gestures. This isn't a film that relies on just one thing, this is a film where it works to create a greater whole.

That the film works as well as it does is thanks to Ian Hutton as Martin and Justine Wachsberger as Lauren. They keep the film wonderfully alive from start to finish. Both of the performances are the sort that show how good actors can be, that get you big roles in big films (said with no disrespect to small films like this). If Wachsberger ends up with a faster rise to the top, it's only because she has the showier role with more to do. However, one shouldn't forget Hutton, who is equally good. He has to play it as a a kind of straight-man, which means he has to be just as good as his partner so as to allow her something to play against. He can't show off lest her performance, and the whole film, crumble. It’s a difficult acting trick, but he pulls it off as flawlessly as Wachsberger.

This is a smart little film you need to keep an eye out for. The film is currently on the festival circuit and it will be getting a later theatrical run. See this film. It’s a neat little story that shows us how much like seahorses we are, trying desperately to steer our lives but really at the mercy of the tide, which may or may not push us toward something or someone we can hold on to.

(An interview with writer/director Jason Kartalian can be found here)

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