Better Things

This film is about lives in which nothing happens.

Nothing happens because the characters live in small rural towns in which nothing happens and they have too little money or knowledge or confidence to make anything happen.

Several of them smoke or inject heroin. We see them doing this repeatedly.

Others are old. One is agoraphobic. Again, because of these factors nothing much happens. This does raise the possibility, however, of sitting in hospital and glimpsing a covered trolley, probably carrying a corpse, being wheeled around a corner.

When people have taken heroin they may slump back in the armchairs in their parents’ unappealing house and gaze with unseeing, half-closed eyes into the space above them. Two friends together will pass long periods like this without saying anything.

The parents, who must be doing something to keep the house going and put food in the cupboards, are away on holiday for the duration.

No one ever smiles. Not even nervously or compulsively.

The sun does not shine.

It rains.

Many people have bad skin. The one who had the best skin died of a heroin overdose.

None of this is funny.

The agoraphobic’s therapist has awful treble-clef earrings and a repressed manner to counter any expectation that she can possibly help the situation.

We enter events that have already begun, and leave them before they conclude. No one exits or enters the frame. Mostly, nothing changes between the beginning and ending of the scene.

Any decisive event that does occur happens off camera and between scenes, so not visibly and not in real time.

This could be an interesting reversal of normal film technique, which is to show decisive action and cut out the time in between. It could raise the question of which moments are really the most important in life.

But the film is as depressed as its characters. It wants us to feel its deadness. It performs its monotonous dance of death before us, but won’t take us by the arm to draw us onto the ballroom floor.

It could have been a promising short. But you need to do much more than this for a feature.

(Better Things, Duane Hopkins, ICA)

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