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Monday, 2 December 2013

The Things My Father Never Taught Me (2012)

Director: Burleigh Smith
Stars: Burleigh Smith, Bridie Carter, Aiden Papamihail and Isabella Paris Hamer
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
It's obvious from his consistent use of the Windsor Light Condensed font that Burleigh Smith dreams of being Woody Allen. His frequent choice of relationship comedy as subject matter underlines it, though he cleverly describes himself as 'more neurotic and less talented' than the master. He's also taller and less Jewish, but that doesn't affect the talent that shines out of this seven minute short. As The Things My Father Never Taught Me has been screened at over 120 film festivals in 17 different countries, he's also clearly doing much better than most wannabes. Filmstock Arizona will be the latest chance to see this peach of a short on the big screen and, frankly, every chance is a good one. Beyond being astute and funny, it's also a textbook in how to allow very young child actors to steal a picture without driving adults completely insane. Smith is everywhere here but Aiden Papamihail is as strong a foil for him as Jackie Coogan was for Charlie Chaplin.

Smith plays Melvin, who provides almost every word we hear, either as narration or dialogue, as it's all about him. Once he realised early in life that his father couldn't teach him a single thing about women, he proceeded to figure out all the tricks himself, or so he believes. He also feels that this knowledge is so fundamental that he's driven to pass it on to his own son, Mike, who apparently needs dating advice at the tender age of three. It's a good job that Smith dominates the audio, because as strong as he is, little Aiden Papamihail steals the show out from under him routinely, effortlessly and very effectively indeed. It's no shock, given that the overly confident Melvin has a three year old son but apparently no significant other, to discover how this all ends up but we're taken there very efficiently, through a mix of Melvin's dedication to a crazy task, played delightfully straight, Papamihail's scene stealing antics and the up tempo music of the Texas Gypsies. The choice to shoot in black and white doesn't hurt either.

This was my first experience of Burleigh Smith, but I'll certainly attempt to track down some of his other work, including short films like Then She Was Gone and Love Like You've Never Been Hurt, along with his upcoming feature, You Can't Play the Game if You Don't Know the Rules. He's written every picture he's directed, starred in most of them and edited them too, under the pseudonym of Ross Farnsworth. Reading synopses, he's clearly most at home with relationship comedy; that's hardly surprising, given how straight he plays the role of Marvin, who is so often almost right but never quite there. He's great at making a mild idiot out of himself without ever losing believability; he never becomes a cartoon. He works well with Bridie Carter, the only other adult actor really in the film, who returned from his 2011 short, Ragtime. It's his interactions with his son Mike that really shine though, and how he's affected by the other interactions that those set up. This is a wonderful little short on many fronts.

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