New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: SHORT FILM REVIEW: A Missed Connection

(Image: facebook.com)

(Image: facebook.com)

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Official selection of the 2020 Beloit Film Festival

A MISSED CONNECTION— 5 STARS

For a moment, think on the last bad day you experienced when the things you juggle in your life continued to collapse. What sort of “wit’s end” did you find yourself arriving at? Jog the memory of how you reacted to that ugly day. Did you lash out harmfully or did a figurative life preserver pull you out of the doldrums or stresses?  Chicago filmmaker Matthew Weinstein’s newest short film A Missed Connection thrusts a character to such a breaking point and exquisitely presents a chance scenario likely dreamt of by many, yet afforded by few. This film plays on February 21st and 22nd as a selection of the Beloit International Film Festival.

Strained writer Jacob, played by Tyler Pistorius, is, tersely put, not doing well. He has a broken briefcase that spills papers and has been soaked by a traffic puddle baptism when he arrives at a coffee shop trying to compose himself on a Snowy Chicago night. In huffed exhales, the best he can do for finding zen in this situation is opening a flask and doctoring his cup of stimulant with an edge-duller pour of brown liquor. His solitary disquiet is palpable.

In due time, a woman of lesser wear and frazzle walks into this coffee shop to order a hot herbal tea but finds her phone missing at the counter. With an “Excuse me, did you drop this?” voice of help, Jacob presents the missing phone and recognition hits. Lo and behold, these two know each other and the affecting body language says it all. They tellingly share greetings with a paused smile, but not a shared hug.  

This is Lauren, played by Kimberly Michelle Vaughn, a former college classmate he hasn’t seen in six years. To her, he’s Jake, the once passionate writer who was always impressed by his work. With busted plans, the two sip their personal libations and catch up. Their conversation reveals more of Jacob’s despondency. His curt and dry cynicism seems impenetrable as he has become an artist who cannot stand his own work and resulting office-bound career. Lauren chooses to remember better days where he brimmed with passion. On this, a particularly low day, her optimism and emotional warmth may melt more than the outside snow.

Talented writer and director Matthew Weinstein (The Gun Equation) has composed a frank and touching narrative of heft and hope. A Missed Connection’s most striking quality is its patience, which can be hard to achieve in this 22-minute space where timely urgency normally rules. Weinstein and his lead couple show no rush. They allow this extended moment to breathe as it would in reality. The filmmaker is astute not to over-sprinkle the romantic serendipity or accelerate into Linklater territory.     

LESSON #1: BEING AT PEACE— No soul, between the cynical or the sincere, gets transformed in twenty minutes or in one reminiscing conversation. However, the momentum for a heartfelt change can certainly be started in that kind of time. Pistorius and Vaughn make the most of this potential. Every time Tyler’s Jacob drops an inflexible axiom made of phobic granite like “pragmatism overshadows idealism” or a similar admission of personal spite, Vaughn’s Lauren diffuses the tension with empathetic curiosity and concern. That is the core of making peace.  

LESSON #2: THE REGRET OF UNSAID THINGS— As the encounter escalates, Jacob meets more of this failure. He is unwilling or fearful of equaling Lauren’s level of willingness. In the film, the pair of director of photography Tom Kinstle and editor Andrew K. Smith captures those mounting character realizations in the form of the turns and pauses people execute after they say the wrong thing or don’t say the right thing. It’s brilliant near-voyeurism and embodies the patience that extends the reverberation of A Missed Connection.  

The production tone of the short film carries the same lovely flourishes to savor moments. There is a fascinating three-way audio duel between the slick coffee shop jazz overhead, Mark Bartels’ poignant score underneath, and chosen stretches of silent quality where the crisp foley work of Paskal Pawlicki adds the domestic taps, sips, and adjustments.  Bartels blends all three as the sound mixer to perfectly accentuate the emotional flow of the central talk. When necessary, the pendulum of distance or emptiness is given the music and the foley. When that void is being filled by shared feelings or revealed truths, the energy switches and the score glides in like a soothing salve. The result is simply beautiful.

LESSON #3: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “IT DOESN’T MATTER”— That quoted phrase comprises a poetic verse at the center of A Missed Connection. Calling back to the introduction, even a solitary or sorry state can be what Jacob considers an “unfinished missed opportunity.” A goal can be to never have those. Pine to make those moments and titular connections count. Speaking about the past in a dismissive way only decays the present and future. Bring the pleasure of the past forward and completely. Never get to a place where you are left wondering.

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#860)

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#860)

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