“Over Coffee” – (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

The primary joke of “Over Coffee”, a fifteen minute short from 2010 that was written and directed by Sean Meehan, is the lengths someone will go for that all-important morning cup of joe. The ticking clock motif is hilariously utilized in this situation. Such occurs as we find out that this beverage isn’t for our office laboring lead, Andrew (in a likeable performance by Erik Potempa that showcases the everyday qualities of his on-screen persona to terrific effect). It is for the imposing real-estate entrepreneur, Hamilton Rice (in another masterful portrayal by the always watchable Timothy J. Cox). He is from Rice Realty Inc. We learn in the first few minutes, in one of the many triumphantly humorous initial bits, that he has an obsessive fascination with the Post-It notes and their colors’ representational values. When a meeting that was scheduled with him at Wednesday at noon turns to “he’s on his way” the office Andrew works at descends into chaos. Andrew sees this as an opportunity to help out the girl he has unvoiced affections for: Carla (a tremendous representation by Jocelyn DeBoer that mirrors Potempa’s enactment in charisma). This is by executing an exploit he fools himself into thinking will be easy. It is to get Rice his coffee, measured out to his demanding specifications, before he shows up.

This set-up is splendidly introduced five minutes in. The last 2/3 are a cheery, light, but dead-on, parody. Such is of the maddening rush of the work-world. It is also about how, especially for those of us who are feeling the aforementioned crunch of labor and time, the simplest of tasks become the most difficult and strenuous. This pressure is perfectly realized in the opening moments. Such is a reverie of sorts involving Andrew’s run to his place of employment. This can be seen as a delightful thesis statement to the entire exertion.

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It is this allure which helps propel Meehan’s attempt to such successful heights. An early sequence between Andrew and David (in another of the many enjoyably wrought performances herein), where the duo are engaging in a conversation about cell phones and relationships that is sprinkled with one funny sexual innuendo after another, could’ve been cut from any closed door office friendship. A mid-film arrangement involving the laborious undertaking of getting a coffee order right, especially when said coded in a dense Starbucks-esque language, also adds to the breezy, slice of life comedy at hand. The romantic element also further illuminates such an aspect. It makes for a finale that is wonderfully old-fashioned in its upbeat simplicity and joviality. This makes Meehan’s work perfect viewing to break up another cloudy day of toil. This is by pointing out the absurdity of many of the situations we, the laborers, find commonplace.

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This detail is also thanks to a sharp, genuinely hilarious and character-oriented screenplay by Meehan. He gives us direction that fits the atmosphere of the material beautifully. This endeavor parallels itself to the look, luster and pace of similarly themed genre cracks well. Yet, it always feels fresh, unique and new. The Two-Five Films and A Studio in Production release benefits from vibrant music by Eric Campo. Matt Schwarz’s cinematography is exceptional. The same can be said for Meehan and Schwarz’s editing. Contributions from the five members of the sound department are also terrific. To add to the skillfulness visible throughout, Mallory Portnoy is outstanding in her representation of Laura.

Meehan aims to amuse and brighten with this venture. This he triumphs at stupendously. His exhibition is even paced and consistently entertaining throughout. The composition has just the right amount of well-timed comic moments and affectionate instances. This is utilized without ever appearing to artificially strive for either. The piece, made for $5,000, is amiable at every turn. Meehan injects the same demeanor here that made later efforts like 2015’s “Total Performance” so winning. His goal is to appeal to a mass audience by using themes we can all find applicable. This is one of the many triumphs on-screen. “Over Coffee” is a tour de force achievement. It is one which seems to have a bit of a Woody Allen spirit to the proceedings. Such makes this phenomenal accomplishment all the more endearing. This is the increasingly rare cinematic product which will be undoubtedly relevant, in some form or another, to practically everyone who crosses its merry path.

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“Total Performance”-(Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

**** out of *****.

The seventeen minute serio-comic short film from writer-director Sean Meehan, “Total Performance”, boasts both incredible talent and a unique and intriguing narrative concept. What further strengthens this fantastic endeavor is that the people in Meehan’s screenplay are lively and endearing. Moreover, the dialogue is dripping with authentic, frequently funny and often slyly witty banter. This is interpreted with equally magnificent turns from Tory Berner as the lead, Cori Sweeney, and Steven Conroy as Tim Madsen. These tremendous enactments grandly compliment the personalities Meehan has erected. This is so largely because the main depictions are all so tremendously realized. They bring home all the multi-layered facets of those we meet in the proximity of the tale. Such is done with nuance and unwavering believability. There is an everyday likability about Sweeney and Madsen that make them immediately relatable.

Meehan’s smoothly structured and magnificently directed and penned account focuses in on Sweeney. She is a struggling actress who is employed by a company, whose name graces the title of the piece, that lends out their members to represent an individual who is about to suffer a break-up, be let go from their occupation or dealt unfortunate news. The only catch is she can’t give any advice. But, when the comfort of being out of the practiced discussion long before it occurs, as is her only rule, is unexpectedly broken she finds herself amid the chaos. This transpires as a situation she was hired to provide her particular service to manifests while she is still on the premises.

When the endeavor turns from effectively humorous and often playful to dramatic to thoughtful in the second half the transition is effortless. This is thanks to the continued character-oriented focus throughout. It is also attributed to, not only the stalwart impact of the depictions from Berner and Conroy, but a secondary cast that is equally spectacular. The on-screen depictions by Caitlin Berger as Annie Heron, Anthony Rainville as Rafi, Timothy J. Cox as Walter Baron, Paul Locke as Bruce, Phoebe Kuhlman as Lauren and Lauren B. Nelson as Susan inspire awe. They quietly captive the audience with their multi-layered, high-caliber enactments. The event that brings about the conversion in tone is harrowing and genuinely unexpected. It heightens our emotional investment in these fictional personalities even more. Furthermore, it is punctuated by a closing shot that perfectly illuminates the various questions and conflicting emotions that must be going on in Sweeney’s mind. The open- ended nature of this only makes the results all the more effective and cerebral. By doing so the spectators is boldly forced to put themselves in Sweeney’s shoes. The composition is all more potent because it asks us to figure out what decision any of us would make in the state of affairs Sweeney finds herself in.

The first sequence draws us in immediately. We see Sweeney going through a job related rehearsal. It is her approach to her profession which is naturally fascinating. Yet, it also grips us on a technical level. This is thanks to, not only a naturally innovative storyline, but also mood-catching music by Cesar Suarez. Further appreciation for this attribute is courtesy of Chris Loughran’s colorful, striking and always luminous cinematography. Meehan’s film editing and digital effects are marvelous and impressive. Hair stylist and makeup artist Maya Landi and gaffer Joe McLeish’s particular contributions are just as phenomenal. Everyone involved presents magnificent work. This factor illuminates the proceedings significantly.

“Total Performance” is magnificently orchestrated throughout. It showcases a tremendous balance of humor and heart. It is also made all the more poignant by Meehan’s ability to seamlessly fill the screen with riveting cinematic personalities that we care about. The writing is sharp and the interpretations of the individuals that populate Meehan’s script are knock-outs all around. This is a brief composition that is not only a beauty to be caught up in but to watch unfold and to meditate upon. Meehan has crafted a dazzler. It is one that is propelled by both a tremendous and original plot idea and same said execution. This is a must-see.

You can check out the Facebook page for “Total Performance” here.