Wednesday 25 February 2015

Best Day of My Life (2015)

Director: Jeff Dykhuizen
Stars: Samuel Varghese and Heidi Johnson
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.
There were fourteen films eligible for awards at this year's IFP Breakout challenge and fifteen awards up for grabs but, as sometimes happens, the judges chose to divvy those awards up amongst only five titles, so a few other worthies missed out entirely. The two such examples that stood out most to me bookended the big winner of the night, Flight Fright, which won five awards, if not the biggest prize, and I do wonder if its comedy and professionalism stole some of the thunder from the two films around it, Best Day of My Life and One to Another. In particular, Best Day of My Life is a film that needs space to resonate and that was the last thing it got stuck in the middle of a set of shorts with comedy following immediately after its brutal last line. It's neatly constructed, that last line also being its first but the two delivered in amazingly different circumstances. The shift in tone from blissful embrace to stark isolation in a five minute short is superbly handled, as is the juggling between one recurrent shot and a succession of flashbacks.

It's all about a couple, Freddy and Judy. At the beginning of the film, they're a young couple in love, very obviously so and very understandably so too, given that they're getting married. 'Best day of my life,' he tells her, the pair of them a grinning composition of red, white and black. We quickly move on, though, to the moment when she raises the idea of having a family. After all, it's been two years, eleven months and four days, the precision of her memory important given where we're going; he just knows that it's almost three years. And we keep moving forward, these brief flashbacks always returning to the most impactful moments of their life together, interspersed with Freddy driving through Phoenix suburbia. We're only a minute and a half in when the tone starts to change and it does so with emphasis. Suddenly we're not in Kansas any more, Dorothy, and everything starts to descend into darkness. That it does this so capably without resorting to the usual emphasis points like blood and swearing is very telling indeed.
I wish I knew who the two actors are, but this runs a second under the five minute challenge limit, so I'm sure they didn't feel that there was room to add credits. I presume Freddy is played by Samuel Varghese, who is also presumably the agreeably befuddled lead in Clutter, another interesting Breakout Challenge film from a year earlier. Both that film and this aim to tell unusual but believable stories with a message. Here that message is one that isn't heard often enough, because many filmmakers would shy away from material that could well raise accusations of sexism. Well, domestic abuse comes in many forms and it's not always delivered by a man to a woman; it's merely that society's take on gender roles makes it hard for men to reach out in such a situation and receive help instead of laughter. Varghese does very well in this difficult role, but his co-star is even better. She's Heidi Johnson, who has venom in her tongue and power in her stance and is dangerously believable in this role.

Technically it's a little inconsistent but I'm not convinced that there aren't reasons for that. The structure of the film in its progression of flashbacks is hindered by the restrictive five minute running time and I'm sure would breathe better with a little more room to do so. I'm especially interested to know if the lighting choices deliberately play to the changing tone of the story, as the score clearly does, or if they were, well, just inconsistent. Unfortunately each of these little vignettes is so inherently short as to make that tough to figure out and I really hope that Jeff Dykhuizen and his crew of Grand Canyon University film folk shot more footage that they can edit together into a longer version. This is strong as a five minute challenge entry but it could easily be a blistering ten minute short film. It wouldn't be easy to directly expand, so if there isn't any extra footage, it would probably need remaking to flesh it out fully. It would be worth it, as I know I wasn't the only one impressed by this film, even if it didn't win any Breakout awards.

Best Day of My Life can be viewed for free at Vimeo.

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