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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Fading Away (2015)

Director: Timothy Helmstadter
Stars: Julie van Lith, Maria Patti and Timothy Helmstadter
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in the 2014-15 season. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014-15 submissions.
Another IFP film to run 4:59 and only just squeeze in under the challenge limit, Fading Away has a couple of major flaws but still manages to impress on a few counts, not least that it still managed to wring some emotional response out of me even though it obviously ached to do so. I find that most films which start out with the clear goal of plucking heartstrings and only think about character later in the process, tend to fail pretty miserably; that's especially true of short films, which don't have the luxury of being able to expand into appropriate space. This one is certainly a mixed bag but it does achieve its goal better than most because of the performance of Julie van Lith as Ruth. While this is technically capable, with decent audio and video, it still felt like a lesser piece until Ruth showed up and van Lith quickly drew me in with some believable Alzheimer's antics. I've spent time with people like this and, while many choose to stay quiet to avoid advertising their gaps, some just don't have a clue and sound precisely like Ruth.

She may be starting to come to terms with her memory loss or she may be doing it over and over, but it isn't a new thing for her daughter, Audrey, who is stuck dealing with all the fallout because her brother is in Albuquerque and can't rush over at the drop of a hat. Audrey is clearly fed up with shouldering all the responsibility but she just as clearly cares deeply for her mother. Maria Patti does well as Audrey when she's bouncing off Ruth, but clearly needed a few more takes during her solo scenes to let her monologue flow better. Her biggest problem though, and the biggest problem of the film as a whole, is that Ruth and Audrey aren't believable in the slightest as mother and daughter. Sure, those are clearly the roles they're playing but we don't buy it. Partly it's the ethnic difference, but mostly it's the age difference; sisters is a more believable sell. Unfortunately the script works better as mother/daughter, so that's what they were. Either Tim Helmstadter should have found better aging make up or he should have cast differently.
The other major flaw is the fact that Fading Away is so obviously a much bigger story and five minutes is merely a glimpse into it. The majority of the film is spent in Ruth's front room, as Audrey tries to convince her that she's a danger to herself and suggests that she needs to be somewhere where she can be taken care of. That's not received well, as you might expect, but Audrey has a point, given that her mum nearly burned the house down earlier in the day but can't even remember the fire department being there. Sure, this is a pivotal scene in the bigger story and, perhaps, we might buy into it being a story in itself if that's all we'd been shown. However the earlier scenes of Audrey arguing with her brother on the phone about who gets to do what force us into a much bigger picture and five minutes isn't remotely enough for us to explore that properly. Those scenes should have been cut to focus us in on the real story, with the added benefit of losing the lesser acting moments. Then reshots could be added back in for the feature.

Fading Away can be watched for free on YouTube.

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