Greetings again from the darkness. When watching and reviewing films, I strive to be objective and observant, while putting some thought into what the creator(s) hoped to achieve with the project. However, this is my upfront disclosure that it’s January 2023 and I seem to have had my fill of ‘Pandemic movies.’
That statement is not meant as an affront to writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi or the cast in this film – some of whom are extremely talented. Instead, it’s my personal confession that, over the past couple of years, I’ve seen enough movies where creative photography was used to highlight the misery we all faced during the recent pandemic lockdowns. This particular movie does make an effort to comment more specifically on how differently the upper-middle class dealt with the challenges.
It opens in a Los Angeles art gallery in October 2019, as art dealer Jonathan (Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”) sneaks in a wham-bam with his mistress Clarissa (Radha Mitchell), just as his wife Sue (Jeanie Lim) shows up. After re-adjusting her wardrobe, Clarissa tries to encourage her well-off friend Paul (Danny Huston) to purchase one of the paintings on display in Jonathan’s gallery. This sequence is relatively short, but we learn much about the key players and their personalities.
We then flash forward a few months to March 2020 when the lockdowns kick in, and COVID makes masks and isolation a part of life. Since Clarissa is a professor, we get a taste of online teaching through Zoom. We are told that FaceTime is our virtual self being interpreted by Wi-Fi, although these technological features provided the only form of socialization and connection for so many people over months. “Stay safe and sane” became our standard and recognized send-off rather than “have a nice day.”
As a single woman, Clarissa is always available for FaceTime and texts from Jonathan, who contrastingly, tries to steal a moment or two from his ever-present wife while taking out the trash or some other menial task that might provide some space. And it’s that space and time apart that slowly changes the dynamics of a hot relationship built on the physical aspect. As the calendar pushes forward, Jonathan becomes stressed over pending financial disaster, and the possibility of losing his identity tied to the gallery. This worries him more than Clarissa’s loneliness (or birthday).
Paul, a smug, quasi-intellectual writer, is working on his next book and his inability to connect with his younger wife Rita (Rosie Fellner) exacerbates their own intimacy issues, sending his possible art purchase from Jonathan to the back burner. It’s during this time where Clarissa takes notice of Darius (Cyrus Pahlavi), her unusual tenant who also is a bit lonely (and recognizes an opportunity).
These characters and filmmaker Miniucchi teach us that “there is no perfect love”, and mostly seem to reinforce two things: human connection is vital to our emotional well-being, and the entitled among us are not immune to the effects of isolation, even if they are in a better position to handle it. We’ve seen it all before, however, “be that as it may …”
Opens on January 27, 2023