Saturday 17 January 2015

The Other Woman (2014)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Kyle Gerkin, Rachel Tullio, Jennifer Lind, Michael Coleman and William Long
At almost fifteen minutes, The Other Woman is another longer, more thoughtful entry into the 52 Films in 52 Weeks series. It's also a welcome updating of Sherwood Anderson's short story, first published in 1920 and notably dated today. The original story reads like a manifesto of male privilege, the tale of one man's transition from bachelor to husband through one last desperate fling. It's difficult to see either of the two ladies involved as anything other than objects, one being cheated on unrepentently and the other used and discarded. Adapting this sorry state of affairs to contemporary Arizona, Mills preserves the majority of the story for a change, but he carefully updates it so that 'the other woman' of the title is progressive and refreshing, the most well adjusted, knowing and understanding character in the entire piece. She's not incompatible with her source story equivalent, but that's because the 1920 character has little to no definition. Here, she's worthy of being the title character, even if she's not the focus of the story.

She's Patricia and to reflect modern Arizona more than 'a fat tobacconist's wife' would, she's a barista at a coffee shop, Cartel. She's good at her job, enough so that she recognises Robert when he comes in and has his drink ready before he orders it, correct in every detail right down to the receipt not being needed. He's a regular who shows up at the same time every day, but he may not have really noticed her before now. From this point on, however, he can't get her out of his mind, right down to a dreamlike party scene where only Robert is in focus until she walks up and kisses him, with increasing passion until reverting to being his fiancée, Mary, which switch ably highlights Robert's quandary. He's about to be married and he apparently loves the young lady whom he has asked to be his wife, but his abundant second thoughts are wrapped up in the neat little package that is this knowing barista. This story isn't about whether the pair will do anything about it, it's about how and what he'll feel before and after they do.
Generally speaking, I've enjoyed the longer short films in this series more than the shorter ones, perhaps inevitably because there's more room for their stories to develop and more opportunity for Mills and his Running Wild crew to leave us with something to ponder after they're done. It gives the actors something to get their teeth into, which both Kyle Gerkin and Rachel Tullio achieve here, the former a natural casting choice for a role that is both manly and clearly confused and the latter nailing her part as a strange piece in someone else's puzzle. In the story, the unnamed other woman is 'a very ordinary person with nothing special or notable about her,' except that she's ten years older than the man telling the story, but she's a contemporary here who's a lot more than very ordinary. I don't remember Tullio's role in Awesome Guy: A New Identity but I called her out for special notice in Wouldn't Be Love, though she was hampered by the sound guy clearly not being James Alire. She's support here, but she's very good indeed.

The fifteen minute running time also allows Mills to add moments of clarification that aren't in the source story. In Anderson's original, the chain of events is fragmented by tortuous prose so that we struggle with the timeframes involved, while Mills sets everything up chronologically by day. The other woman doesn't know in the original that the man who propositions her is about to be married, but Mills makes sure that Robert explains that to Patricia immediately, before he even knows her name. He even has Mary give him a coffeemaker as a wedding present, unwittingly removing the reason why he might ever see the barista again; in the original, there's no such device as the man simply chooses to avoid the tobacconist's wife by never going down that street ever again. While this remains a story about a man cheating on his wife on the night before his wedding, these details help to make it a little more understandable and a little less offensive; it also raises the title character to prominence by giving her awareness.
Mills also blurs the line a little between reality and fantasy. Anderson's prose is clumsy and confusing but it mimics the mindset of the lead character. He's all over the place, trying to explain why he cheated and what it meant and didn't mean to him. Mills has the benefit of visuals to help get this over and they help a lot. The daydream scene is the centerpiece of this approach and it's beautifully shot with a good choice of music to accompany it. There are other scenes too where we switch back and forth between Mary and Patricia, because that's how it's going in Robert's mind. However, I did wonder if some of the new scenes that Mills added were literal or imaginary, like the basketball scene. While Michael Coleman shows off his dribbling skills, he tries to set up a bachelor's night for Robert, but this is entirely detached from the rest of the film, so could easily mean that he's a little devil on Robert's shoulder, merely one with mad skills. It's even possible to read that Robert never cheats for real, just in his mind, though I don't buy it.

Many of the earlier 52 Films in 52 Weeks films were shorter and more experimental, while The Test Case and The Other Woman are a solid pair of exceptions. While they still capture particular moments, as do the majority of these films, they take their time about doing so and thus allow them to expand naturally into their own spaces rather than being confined into a particular shape. While they're still crafted, they feel a lot more relaxed than many of the earlier films, which in this case hides another catastrophe that was averted close to the shoot. The web series episode that covered The Other Woman explained how a key location, the coffee bar, was lost during the week leading up to the shoot, leading to a good deal of scrambling to find a replacement. It also meant an increased financial cost, which highlighted how little Running Wild were spending on these films; their $10,000 Kickstarter budget was split over 52 of them, so averaging only $192 each. That's pretty incredible and it highlights why this series is so important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review!