By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“Inspired”, a twenty minute Senior thesis film from first time writer and director Maggie Kaszuba, is an absolute triumph. Likewise, the 2015 release is fittingly titled. Kaszuba and her moviemaking crew put us through the emotional ringer. We feel anger, frustration, spats of teenage confusion and undeniable sorrow. Yet, it all resonates, through its sensational gym room monologues and tersely private at home instances, to uplift. It does this, especially in its concluding sequence, spellbindingly so. There is not a second of its runtime we don’t sense the drive and initiative Kaszuba has injected into every frame. It is seen in both the towering quality of Kaszuba’s material and her delicate crafting of scenes. Such is also calculable in the brilliantly honed individuals that dominate this outstanding yarn.
Kaszuba’s powerful tour de force concerns high school student Samantha Higgins (a tremendous and fantastically realized performance by Tyler Kipp). Plagued to lateness, she has developed a turbulent relationship with her basketball instructor, Coach Stafford (an unflinching depiction by Ariane M. Reinhart that is smart and courageous). The initial half of the narrative focuses to spectacular effect on the relationship between Higgins and Stafford. This is until a tragic ailment is introduced into their existence. It serves as a reminder to Higgins of the elusive balance of life and death. It also becomes a lesson in appreciating the time we have with those who stir us to better ourselves.
But, it is just as much about the path of dreams. Higgins’ seem plagued, as is the case of so many attempts to fulfill our personal ambitions, by unyielding detours of failure. In turn, the effort radiates hope beneath its mournful chain of events. It is proof of how well-rounded, tear-jerking and fulfilling this brief undertaking remains. Such is true as a relatable endeavor and a photographic experience.
Higgins, Stafford and Coach Bohn (an exceptional portrayal by Chris Viemeister) is credibly etched. Such is also the case with the chain of events Kaszuba builds around them. Because of this, the on-screen personages and the composition as a whole should prove accessible. It will likely prove personal to a widely varied group of cinematic patrons. A pre-end credits segment of this MKaszuba Productions and FDUF Films masterwork makes Kaszuba’s own intimate relation to the material glaringly apparent. Such makes the proceedings all the more impactful. This also evokes an autobiographical air. It brings about another of the many re-iterations of motivation spied in the enterprise itself.
Technically, the affair is as strong as it is in its account. The cinematography by Dan Quiyu is illustrious. It complements the accurate atmosphere of the exertion terrifically. Michael Posner’s editing fares just as well. Jalen Thompson and Foster Vernon’s sound contribution is top-notch. Matt McAndrew’s music trails the sentimental beats of the fiction wonderfully. Kaszuba’s directorial flare is impressive. Her screenplay is well-mounted and intelligent. It is filled with dialogue and situations that are as harrowing and believable as all other components we witness. This parallels beautifully all other aspects she visibly strives for throughout the venture.
Kaszuba’s labor of love begins on a note that immediately allows viewers to glimpse Higgins’ turmoil and plight. It is a riveting opener. Moreover, it is as natural, but attention-garnering, as all else that follows. The piece is just as credible in its organic pacing and sensibilities. Everything Kaszuba projects here comes from a place of authenticity and insight. This is issued meticulously and with genuine concern through the duration. Kaszuba has given us a dramatic slice of life. It is one that is character-oriented and exhilarating. This is mutually accurate as storytelling and as art. She is a tremendous talent. I look forward to seeing what future offerings she has in store.