Stars: Jennifer Ward and Erin Nicole Cline
After Date Night, a simple but highly effective short, I had high hopes for its predecessor, shot a year earlier with many of the same cast and crew. Simone turns out to be another capable and enjoyable film with much to praise, but there's also more to dislike and it doesn't succeed to my eyes quite as strongly as its successor. It's more complex and more overtly stylish than Date Night, opening wildly as a handheld camera rushes through the sweeping neon of cityscapes at night but struggles to orient itself in the glaring daylight over the bed where Simone sleeps. The uncontrolled approach ably mirrors the fragments of her dreams as she wakes up with smeared make up and an obvious hangover, perhaps unsure even of where she is. She certainly finds the empty bottle of vodka by the bed a lot easier than she finds her clothes and her phone. Editing and sound work in tandem as enforcement, snapping her back from haze to reality.
One she finds her phone, her voicemail joins the fight as a voice drunkenly tells her that she was a real slut last night. She forces herself to remember, though it hardly looks good as she coughs up blood and hair and follows a trail of blood to the kitchen. Memories are quick to surface but only as blips in explosive club light that highlight mere snippets of a bigger picture. Gradually the memories coalesce enough for us to put that picture together and figure out exactly what's going on. She remembers a bar, drinks, a girl. She remembers passion at the bar, hot girl on girl action in the bedroom. She remembers waking up in the night apparently shocked that she's in bed with a chick, but that's not where this is going. There may be hints at a gay subtext to the story, especially given that the film's theme is about fighting with inherent nature ('fear your instincts' is the tagline), but they remain hints. The story remains a lot more straightforward.
I liked Simone, both as a film and a character, but neither aim as deeply as they should. Jennifer Ward is good but not as versatile here as Erin Cline was in Date Night. Cline is here too, as the girl Simone picks up, but she gets much less to do as it's very much Ward's show. It's the script that lets them down most, I think. While Joops Fragale's story in Date Night works consistently well across three acts, Frazer Lee's here is awkwardly balanced so that the first act gets a lot of attention while the second inherently has little substance and the third is almost skimped over. There are eleven minutes to build but only four to close out. Technically it's not as accomplished as Date Night, with the same inconsistent lighting flaw. The camerawork and editing smooth out with the progression of the story, but they should have gone further. There's more reliance on effects, but they work better through sound than visuals. The last shot is effective but cheap.
And all that sounds far more negative than it should. My biggest complaint isn't that it's a bad film, as it's actually a pretty effective one given obvious budget restraints; it's that it seems to set itself up as something more than it ends up being. It's very possible that I'm reading it the wrong way, of course. Instead of starting with the style of the opening, that strong tie between the sound and the visuals that carries us into the mind of the lead character and draws us into the story, maybe I should be starting with a simple but persistent story that's enhanced by the stylings of the camera, the editing and the sound. The thing is that it doesn't work as well that way, because it stays too simple. I wanted Simone's conflict to be focused on more and earlier, the fact that both lead characters are female to mean something, the last shot to be lingering and haunting. But hey, this is still good stuff and I'm up for more Cline and more Fragale.
Simone can be viewed for free on Vimeo.