Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
By Andrew Buckner
We live in a world where often we become so accustomed to a certain stroke of luck, whether it be good or bad fortune, that we almost expect it, feel it and await its presence. Some of us go about our daily routines in this state.
“Please Punish Me”, from director Chris Esper (2014’s “Always a Reason”, “Steak Knives”), is a meditation on such circumstances. It is balanced with splendid performances, beautifully humanized characters and ample doses of humor and heart.
The tale it tells in its quick-moving and smartly paced thirteen and a half minutes is that of a businessman named Scottie Lee (David Sackal in a tremendous and quietly moving performance). He is having a long streak of positive events transpiring in his life.
Among these incidents is climbing the corporate ladder, which he admits in a soul-bearing scene that he hasn’t even attempted to do, and he just can’t understand why. Our lead is a man who just wants to be an artist. But, for his success he feels the need to be disciplined for what he deems to be his “curse”.
This is when he turns to a place that dispenses such treatments at a price. Here he meets the woman meant to incorporate this specific brand of punishment, Michelle (Joanna Donofrio in a role which captures all the layers of her character incredibly well).
From this point on the two find an unexpected bond. With this wells an honesty flourishing where should be an exercise in momentary pleasure.
Rich Camp’s screenplay, from a story by Tom Paolino, is tremendously done. In its sparse runtime we leave this short feeling as if we sat down and conversed with them ourselves and know them intimately.
The first half is full of winning, well-timed, delivered and genuinely side-splitting gags. When we get to the second portion of the narrative we are drawn in by the poignant turn in the chronicle.
Camp has provided a delicate balance of opposite tones. It is one that he has done a phenomenal job of bringing forth on the page.
With Esper’s talented directorial hand bringing the story to life on-screen, with help from Mark Phillips’ sharp cinematography and Steven Lanning-Cafaro’s original score, “Please Punish Me” showcases talent in all technical arenas.
This is further aided by Felipe Jorge’s film editing, Jorge Mario Tobon’s sound work and Chad Kaplan’s delightful contribution to the striking animation in the opening sequence. Make-up artist Stefani Plante and hair stylist Nicole Bertoni do a phenomenal job as well.
This is a work that is emotionally searing, illuminating and beautiful all around. It is light and breezy when it needs to be. Still, it is also ultimately tear-jerking, poetic and heartfelt.
Esper has crafted a gargantuan accomplishment. He has established a triumphant victory juggling the story’s many moods evoked with effortless gusto.
Among its various accomplishments is ending on a note that is both thought-provoking, contemplative, genuine, brilliantly understated and real.
Most full-length films would not be able to establish their characters as well as “Please Punish Me” does in under fifteen minutes. Furthermore, it would not make us feel for them the way Esper and his cinematic crew does here.
This is lively, but potent, material. It is inspiring, gentle and cathartic. Moreover, it wisely finds the right fit to execute the narrative with a sense of natural love. It also incorporates an optimism that is delicate, stalwart and frank.
“Please Punish Me” received great acclaim from the 401 Film Festival. I can see why. It is intelligent, cinematic art.