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Entries in Moment [2014] (1)

Wednesday
Jun102015

Moment (2014)

I Remember Every Moment

Last summer, filmmakers Neal Fischer and Kevin Kirchman conducted an experiment. What could they create in a few days with handheld cameras, a skeleton crew, and location-only lighting? And how many locations could they grab to make an age-old story of love and loss as visually compelling as possible? The result is an exquisitely shot and deeply personal short film called Moment.* 

Phil Platakis plays Ethan, a musician whose girlfriend (Amanda Perri) breaks up with him after he proposes marriage. The two had planned a romantic weekend in an upscale Indiana hotel, and we meet Ethan as he travels to keep the reservation as a party of one. Through a somber travel montage of Midwest landscapes narrated by voice messages from Ethan's ex and his best friend (Matthew Donnelly), Fischer and Kirchman capture heartbreak's grand contradiction in just a couple of minutes: by cutting between absolutely stunning omniscient footage that soars above a wind-turbine-dotted plain, to closeups of Platakis playing (and likely replaying) the hurtful words in his head,** we are reminded that the sudden absence of love can transport us from a wide world of beauty and possibility to a cloudy, insular dimension whose very nature makes it impossible for us to see that beauty.

Ethan settles into his suite, to the chagrin of an apathetic assistant (Fischer), and takes a stroll to a carnival--which turns out to be the town's only point of interest, besides the hotel in which he's staying. He meets Addison (Madalyn Mattsey), a local who makes it her mission to cheer up the sad-sack she finds staring glumly at rides. The strangers walk, talk, drive, and explore the town in ways that may remind you of a Richard Linklater film or three, but there's no denying that Moment belongs to Fischer and Kirchman. Their characters' dialogue and the actors' platonic-but-interested chemistry illuminate scenes that feel ripped from the creators' real-life experiences--instead of ripped off from other movies.

Even if the acting had been terrible and the dialogue a string of sappy clichés, the film would still hold up as a sterling example of how to imbue a small story with epic emotion through painstaking visuals. Just as the wind-turbine shot pulled us into Ethan's pity spiral, Fischer and Kirchman push their protagonist back into the game with a stunning composition in which Ethan and Addison look upon a grandiose fireworks display. They stand together with their backs to us, small and dark in the corner of the composition, as a breathtaking spectacle lights up the sky. By not putting their characters front and center, the filmmakers draw everyone's attention to a primal spectacle that (for many of us) evoke the warmth, wonder, and hope of childhood--not to mention young love's first giddy sparks.

I recommend Moment for anyone still lamenting the spiritual departure of Cameron Crowe. Fischer and Kirchman pop in and out of a recognizable reality that's marked by great music, observations both witty and wistful, and two lead performances that will absolutely make you fall in love. Mattsey makes Addison an outgoing, vulnerable cool chick without straying into Manic Pixie Girl territory; Platakis mopes like nobody's business, drawing Ethan as a guy who needs fixing but not saving. Neither is looking for a casual hook-up; they're drawn together by an attraction more cosmic than physical, and the filmmakers deftly keep them at just enough distance to make us root for them vehemently.

Moment is a sweet, unassuming little film that could teach mainstream rom-coms a thing or nineteen about how actual relationships unfold. Sure, there's a bit of clunkiness in the opening voice mail dialogue (it's cumbersome and functional, where the rest of the character interactions feel light and agenda-free), but it's clear that Fischer and Kirchman care about each of their characters (even the grumpy hotel assistant gets an arc). More importantly, they care about the people watching the movie. Where most mainstream relationship flicks are nostalgia bombs that seek to capitalize on easy emotions, Moment cuts out the nonsense by giving its characters--and us--a handful of special moments worth remembering and impossible to forget.

Note: You can enjoy Moment for free right now as part of The Online Film Festival.

*Full disclosure: Long-time readers know that Fischer and I know each other, and that I'm a fan of his work going back to Once Upon a Rom-Com: The Bill Pullman Story--a play whose lead actors also headline the co-writer/director's latest picture. Lest you assume bias on my part, let me take you back to what I was doing last summer: posting a not-so-glowing review of the horror anthology Dead Girls, to which Fischer contributed a segment. Writing critically of artists whose work I admire is one of the hardest parts of this job. Fortunately, the creative universe operates on a cyclical principle, and I'm happy once again to heap praise upon my friend.

**I couldn't figure out if these shots were achieved by crane or helicopter or what. I reached out to Fischer to help remove this mental splinter, and he revealed that Kirchman used a GoPro Drone--the effect, even on a laptop screen, is one of steady, sublime weightlessness.