Depression, grief, anger, and self-loathing all play major parts in most people's lives at one point or another. These negative emotions, as brutal as they are, are needed in order for us to become the people we are meant to be. Sometimes however, it's not quite as easy as simply dealing with them and learning; some people for whatever reason, just can't handle these emotions the way others can. You can guess away at the exact reasons why some people just can't deal, but in truth, we'll never know one hundred percent. "Dear Melissa" deals with all the emotions I've listed above, and then some. It's a coming of age story of sorts, but not in a road trip/fun adventure kind of way. Roberto Beltre's flick is a more gritty, realistic kind of film, and a happy ending is not guaranteed. As a matter of fact? For some in the film, a happy ending was never in the cards, right from the start. Yet "Dear Melissa" is entertaining to watch, and has a powerful message... or perhaps "message" isn't the correct word, more like education.
In the film, Melissa and Winston have been together for years but lately, Melissa begins to feel she needs to explore what life has to offer, away from him. The two break up, her doing, and shortly after the worst happens; he commits suicide. Winston's mother blames Melissa, and she's not one hundred percent alone. Beltre's film spends its length exploring the times before and after the suicide - going as far back as the day they met via a "This Is Us" television show format. Although "Dear Melissa" doesn't pack the same emotional punch, it's still pretty powerful emotionally, as well as a cautionary tale for sure - and showcases how potentially some deal with all those emotions I started this write-up referencing. The truth is that it's a pretty good film, but a little hard to get started on - more on that below.
Technically speaking, "Dear Melissa" may be low-budget, but it's executed and performed quite well. Not perfect, but if you're willing to give the film a short time to establish itself, most people won't be disappointed. My only concern? That some folks won't give it the short time needed to really get rolling. My best example would be the structure of the film, as I hinted at earlier. "Dear Melissa" jumps around a lot, and is not a linear film. That in itself is not the problem, and I don't know exactly what the problem is - but my best guess would be the timing.
When I first started watching this movie, I actually thought Melissa cheated on her long-term boyfriend with some dude she randomly met at a bar. That's not what happened, but because of the format of the movie, that's what it seemed like at first. The bouncing back and forth in time is a concept that can be really effective, but I feel that at first, we're not given enough time with the characters to understand exactly what's going on. Almost instantly, we're not only being introduced to all the main players, but the time jumps happen at around the same moment. So, we're not prepared - and things get hard to follow. Eventually, this issue passes, and once it does, and we learn to quickly figure out we're looking at a different time in the story, "Dear Melissa" really starts to earn its stars. This is where the "give it some time" comes into play because once you really grasp the editing concept, things pick up pretty quickly. The only other thing I really noticed, was that certain scenes are much longer than they probably should have been. This film is pretty dialog intensive as it is - a few cuts would have been great. Earlier I wrote about the man Melissa meets in a bar. Well reader, that entire scene was a pretty long one. So long in fact, that I was sure the man in the bar had a much bigger role to play in the film than he actually did. Scenes like that could have easily been halved - there was no real reason for it to be so lengthy.
It all comes down to this. Once the ball gets rolling, "Dear Melissa" is a great film. The performances are really solid all around, and at times even bordering on brilliant. The "indie" look and feel of the film is eventually forgotten - because the viewer gets pulled into a really well-written story. "Dear Melissa" definitely does the trick and entertains the way it was meant to. What more could you ask for? My only concern is that some may simply not give the movie the chance it deserves, but for those that do, Roberto Beltre and his troupe definitely don't disappoint. A well earned three and a half stars.