2021 | DIR: JOSH LAWSON | STARRING: RAFE SPALL, ZAHRA NEWMAN, RONNY CHIENG, DENA KAPLAN, NONI HAZLEHURST | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD
Teddy (Rafe Spall) is constantly putting off plans and decision-making, a relatable and frustrating habit that’s left him only somewhat content. He’s got a very patient fiancé, Leanne (Zahra Newman), and a gorgeous beachside home, but hasn’t managed to balance his day job with his passion for photography. Shortly after a mysterious stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) warns him that he may regret not seizing the day more often, Teddy awakens to find that a year has passed and he can’t remember a single second of it. He soon begins jumping forward to the next year after mere minutes, watching as the people he loves grow and change in surprising ways.
Building on the fresh premise, LONG STORY SHORT delivers plenty of fun twists to shake up any guesses for what might happen in the next time jump. The ending will likely be predictable to most viewers (it is a rom-com, after all), but Lawson’s script impresses by seamlessly weaving characters and callbacks into each ‘year’. While it’s not as flashy as the large-scale, clockwork rhythm of Punxsutawney, I was surprised by how many and which details became important. Lawson has clearly done his homework on what gives this type of film an extra level of re-watch value, as if it being laugh-out-loud funny somehow weren’t enough.
Spall is funnier here than I’ve ever seen him, expertly balancing Teddy’s natural wit while playing up his constant confusion. He may have the perfect zinger to coolly tell the universe how little he cares about his situation, yet there’s no hiding the utter bewilderment on his face at finding out his infant daughter is named ‘Tallulah’. Likewise, Ronny Chieng is charming as usual as Teddy’s best friend Sam, often stealing scenes by prefacing all of his insight and helpfulness with sarcasm.
Meanwhile, Newman has perhaps the most challenging role and nails it, delivering plenty of her own one-liners in addition to serving as the film’s emotional anchor. The way her expression subtly changes at the start of an argument–as Teddy’s lack of memories from the past year turns from amusing to hurtful–is powerful; Lawson doesn’t linger on these moments, he doesn’t need to. Finally, Noni Hazlehurst plays The Stranger with just the right know-it-all attitude to persuade viewers to take in her fairly explicit summary of Lawson’s key themes, however, I wish her role had amounted to more than a cameo.
My one minor caveat with LONG STORY SHORT is that aside from jokes, the dialogue often consists of clumsy exposition (which is surprising given I’m usually a fan of Lawson’s writing). For instance, Leanne regularly chastises Teddy for spending so much time at his job during the years he can’t remember instead of pursuing photography, yet the viewer doesn’t find out what his job is, it’s always referred to as “that job”. Similarly, despite enjoying Hazlehurst’s performance, I felt that The Stranger’s lack of clarity surrounding Teddy’s situation was a slight cop-out. If there’s a(nother) lesson to be taken from Groundhog Day, it’s to take an all or nothing approach when it comes to explaining fantastical elements.
LONG STORY SHORT is an intimate film, both in its focus on one relationship and in its framing, rarely featuring more than two actors in a scene, and utilising only a handful of sets. With a high-concept premise, this simple approach is a clever choice, ensuring that the humour and heart of a rom-com always shine through for viewers to whom these were the main appeal. It’s another great feature from Josh Lawson, and something I’ll forward to rewatching year after year after year....