By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“Undatement Center” (2017), a nine-minute short film from writer-director Chris Esper, is effortlessly charming, consistently humorous and always likable. It carries on the same seamless marriage of upbeat and hopelessly romantic tones that made his prior inventions Please Punish Me (2015) and The Deja Vuers (2016) such an incredible success. This Stories by the River and Stories in Motion co-production is also a fantastic showcase of Esper’s ability, which has been ever-present throughout his career, to project fully fleshed-out, relatable characters. Such transpires in a heartwarming and enchanting, yet undeniably human, manner. This detail is made increasingly admirable with the incorporation of a pace that is as breakneck as view of the world of dating that is the focal point of Esper’s endeavor. Yet, none of the sequences, even the laughter-fueled montage that takes over the mid-section, feels rushed or superficial. There is a breezy demeanor to the proceedings that even makes the most familiar beats of the plot triumphantly sing. This is apparent in the relationship that forms between our twenty-six-year old lead, Jack (in a phenomenal turn from Trevor Duke), who turns to the title corporation in hopes of finding love after a twelve-year hiatus, and Lindsey (in a depiction by J.D. Achille that is consistently marvelous, engaging and authentic). The opening and concluding notes are also evidence of Esper’s mastery in this aforesaid department. Yet, these segments ring with a sweetness, an earnest simplicity and lack of pretension that is genuine and captivating. Despite its often-modern attitude (reflected most readily in the intriguing plot itself), the project feels wonderfully old-fashioned. Such only increases its amiability. Randy Veraguas’ depiction of the quirky desk clerk, Shelley, as well as Shandy Monte’s enactment of the similarly positioned Jennifer enhance the agreeable nature of the picture. Christie Devine is also stalwart in her quick role as Annie. Acei Martin, in a brief part dubbed “Urine Sample Woman”, is also stellar. When combined with the masterful moviemaking and deftly constructed literary contributions Esper incites herein, with his ear for often clever dialogue being another high-quality trait, it’s becomes immediately evident that the Secaucus, New Jersey born maestro has delivered another all-around winner.
This Quincy, Massachusetts recorded endeavor is also graced with illustrious cinematography from Mikel J. Wisler. Such a veneer reiterates the sunny atmosphere of the piece fantastically. Wisler’s seamless and sharp editing fares just as well. Also, assisting matters is Steven-Lanning Cafaro’s cheery and deeply cinematic music. Dominic Kaiser’s sound issuance is spectacular. J.L. Major and Rich Simpson’s assistant camera work is equally proficient.
Esper intends to comment on how intimate associations have become more akin to a business transaction, a one-sided meeting that is based on quick facts and reams of paper, than a personal experience. The conclusion, which hints at the latter method as the more beneficial, is evidence of this bitingly brilliant, but undeniably true, observation. In less capable hands, this is a storyline akin to this could’ve become a bitter, somber experience. But, Esper keeps the jokes cracking and the smiles brimming on our faces throughout. This is without ever diminishing the impact of his thesis statement. Such is, like the totality of “Undatement Center” itself, a tremendous accomplishment. Esper’s latest, an extension of many of the themes present in his earlier photoplays, is an all-out confirmation of his continually broadening talent. It is also a testament to his exceptional skill as a photographic craftsman. The result is side-splitting and deeply transcendent; an endlessly entertaining, quietly emotive must-see!
Premiered on April 1st, 2017.
(Unrated). Contains brief language and some sexual humor.
Stories in Motion’s page for the film can be found here.