At first glance, Josh Lawson’s second feature as director, Long Story Short, has a lot going for it – solid casting, appealing locations, and the employment of a tried and true time-hopping device which is as old as Charles Dickens’ ‘Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come’ – the one who showed Ebenezer Scrooge a potentially unhappy future which had him quickly reassess his behaviour and then mend his ways in the present in order to avoid having to live the life he otherwise would be doomed to endure.
At the outset of Lawson’s film we are introduced to Teddy – played by Rafe Spall – who is presented as a man in a perpetual hurry, never having the time to get things done properly, nor taking the time to appreciate what is really important in his life.
In this opening scene, Teddy is rushing to meet his girlfriend before the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve and the Sydney Harbour fireworks erupt.
Without first taking the time to check the identity of a woman he erroneously assumes to be his partner, he launches into a passionate embrace with a startled, but not unwilling, stranger. This act of affectionate intimacy with Leanne (played by Zahra Newman), sets a train of events in motion that will irrevocably alter Teddy’s life.
Teddy and Leanne begin a life together, and eventually announce their engagement some years later. However, the date for their actual marriage is undetermined as Teddy’s penchant for procrastination reigns supreme.
A chance meeting with a mysterious old woman at his father’s graveside (Noni Hazlehurst) prompts him to act more decisively than usual and to get hitched sooner rather than later.
The mysterious woman then presents the newly weds with an odd wedding – a label-less soup can that is not to be opened for ten years. This ‘gift’ is soon something Teddy comes to believe to be a curse and he finds himself forced to pass through the ensuing decade of his life at an unworldly speed, jumping through time in regular one year intervals, stopping only briefly for a few minutes on each of his wedding anniversaries as they tick by.
As he comes to consciousness on each anniversary, he has no memory of his actions during the year that has just passed, and he is forced to watch as his personal life slowly spins out of control. He must also endure the trauma of seeing those he loves deal with his continual emotional absence, brought on by the relentless tunnel vision pursuit of his career goals at the expense of ignoring the needs of family and friends, and his unwillingness to risk pursuing his own true desires and ambitions.
Lawson’s direction is a little heavy-handed in places. He does not give the audience enough information about Teddy’s character before the time-hops begin and this causes some initial confusion and disorientation. He then overcompensates for this, not seeming to trust us to have the intelligence to recognise Teddy’s tendencies toward procrastination or his need to be shown the error of his ways, and has all of the support characters discard subtlety and in order to repeatedly tell us directly, through the dialogue, what he have already worked out well before. He clearly establishes Teddy’s main problem early on and therefore the frequency of the repetition and reinforcement of the message becomes frustrating and a little wearisome after the fourth or fifth time we are forced to hear it.
Spall, after delivering an initially wooden and unconvincing first few scenes, steadily grows more believable and convincing as the film progresses. He is well cast as an appealingly relatable and likeable ‘everyman’ who serves as the delivery vessel for the clunky moral lesson, one which is dripping with cultural assumptions, that Lawson sets out to teach us – that the modern world is moving too fast, and we must all consciously make the deliberate effort to take time off from the treadmill of capitalism to ensure we fully appreciate what should be more important to us in our lives.
Zahra Newman’s performance as Leanne is also solid, but unfortunately comes across a little too emotionally one-dimensional at times. The range of her reactions to the rapidly changing circumstances of her life, and her interactions with an increasingly confused and unhinged husband, is limited, and such cool detachment seems to run in grating opposition to Teddy’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep their crumbling relationship alive.
Ronny Chieng as Teddy’s loyal mate, Sam, is another who warms to his task as the plotline unfolds and, after a less than convincing start, ends up featuring in some of the film’s most poignant scenes.
There will undoubtedly be an appreciative audience for this film. It has definite appeal for rom-com fans, and, with the added gothic twist of the old oracle who can mysteriously manipulate the future and set our hero on his path to enlightenment, it provides just enough of a variation on the Groundhog Day structural approach it employs to avoid being dismissed as overly formulaic.
The script contains enough comic punch to evoke some good belly laughs from the audience which allows some occasionally shallow and uninspiring moments of dialogue to be forgiven.
In the end, Long Story Short rewards perseverance and, after its sputtering start, reveals enough heart and substance to make the film worth seeing.
Long Story Short opens in Wallis cinemas on February 11. Check your local guides for screening times.