New from Jeff York on The Establishing Shot: ABBY PIERCE HOLDS THE SPOTLIGHT IN “GO AHEAD, GRAB TIME BY THE THROAT”

Original caricature by Jeff York of Abby Pierce in the short film GO AHEAD, GRAB TIME BY THE THROAT. (copyright 2020)

When you wish that a short film was a long film, you know that you’ve witnessed something special. That was the feeling I had when I watched Abby Pierce in the short GO AHEAD, GRAB TIME BY THE THROAT. She wrote it, stars in it, and co-directed it with co-star Clare Cooney. (Clare is another multi-talented Chicagoan whom I’ve written about here at The Establishing Shot.) The character Pierce is playing is named Abby, and whether or not it’s a riff on the filmmaker herself doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how fascinating Pierce is to watch onscreen. She creates a Millennial character, both smart and silly, open and secretive, and confident and neurotic. In short, a typical modern American woman of today, unsure of where she stands, what’s expected of her, and stymied by a society that constantly bombards her with choices and critiques and wants everything to be entertaining bits of video on social media.

It starts with Abby setting up her cellphone to record her interaction with longtime beau James (James Flinchum). Their conversation looks like it’s going to be a marriage proposal as they join hands and get down on their knees. But before the question is popped, the story cuts to a montage of scenes from Abby’s life, all captured on her cellphone. As we watch the subtitles reveal a plethora of successive days, we realize that Abby is more than a little obsessive about chronicling such events, big and small.

We see Abby yucking it up with friends at a bar, mugging with a mud pack on her face, playing with her dog, jumping into Lake Michigan along Chicago’s lakefront, petting her cat, etc. It seems like Abby can’t live her life without sharing it all. Heck, why live,” she seems to be saying,” when you can live and record it for prosperity at the same time?!”

But then, the story takes a turn towards pathos when Abby dials up her mom to share some bad news. She starts to break down some as she tells her, “I think I just blew my life up a little bit.” It sounds heavy, and indeed, Abby tells her mom that she and James are no longer a couple. Still, as heavy as that is, Abby relays the information on speakerphone so she can use an eyelash curler to enhance her gorgeous eyes. They are indeed stunning, the kind that would make Emma Stone burn with jealousy, but why is Abby doing that while dropping such a bomb on her mom? What’s her deal, her major malfunction?

Abby’s problem is that she’s a paradox. Almost everything is a big deal to her, but she’s easily distracted too. That becomes abundantly clear when she moves back home after the breakup and is all too easily distracted by a goofy workout show her folks are watching. They’re following the hunk’s exercise routine avidly while chomping on hot dogs, and it isn’t long before Abby is munching on a red hot too, spellbound by the curling weights on the tube.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as shortly after, while helping move her boxes in, mom and dad (Meg Thalken and Stephen Walker) are distracted by a fornicating couple in a nearby car. Abby joins them in the protest, hemming and hawing, but she still manages to pull out her cellphone to record the trysting duo.

More details of Abby’s existence are revealed in subsequent scenes, including an extended flashback to the painful yet hilarious proposal down on those knees that ends up being a breakup as well. By the time Abby is sitting down to share all her woes with bestie Clare (played, of course, by co-director Clare), Abby could be the poster child for the screenwriting trope of the “unreliable narrator.”

She talks around her problems with Clare, grasping at the air with her clenched fingers, hoping they’ll find answers hovering about. Abby ends up boasting about how she feels good about her decisions, even though we know she doesn’t even know how to accurately qualify the engagement/breakup. That big glass of wine will help convince her though, as will pulling out her cellphone once again to capture this sisterhood moment with Clare. It’s all deliciously cringe-worthy and vivid, A+ comedy.

The sly satire at play here is enhanced by a terrific cast that the two women wisely directed to underplay. Abby’s performance itself is a marvel of contradictory actions and emotions, smiling giddily one moment, her face dropping inches in despair the next. Watching the character try to figure out what end is up could make for a great 90-minute romantic comedy or even a TV series. Pierce is just that fascinating, just that strong in her portrayal of this wildly contradictory creature.

She’s just as adept at writing and directing too. She and Cooney have delivered a first-rate short, one fierce enough to be produced and crewed by almost all women, but also feminist enough to present a female lead who is as flawed as she is funny. What’ll they do next? Frankly, I can’t wait to see!

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