FILM INFO: Tom, an overweight man takes refuge at his grandmother"s cabin, attempting to bury the years of being bullied and feeling rejected. While there, he meets a blind girl named Lilly who shows him how to be accepted and loved.
WRITTEN BY: Judith Krant, Paul Boring DIRECTED BY: James Choi GENRE: Drama TIME: 76 minutes
Today's world is filled with stories of bullying, self loathing and depression. It's a scary place for anyone not presenting the qualities of the "perfect" person. Physically and mentally. Many say it's an issue caused by bad parenting or even, in relating more to this particular film, what we eat and what we do. A vicious cycle of depression creating a physical manifestation. I personally believe today's world, with respects to the above mentioned, is more or less the same as it was 50 years ago. The only difference being that we now have the internet and everyone is connected or can be connected. This amplifies any problem considerably. Now it's not just one person bullying another... it can stretch internationally. The harm caused by a few school kids, or even a small number of adults is amplified infinitely thanks to the world wide web. So what's a person to do? In the case of Tom, played nicely by Merrick Robison, it's to uproot and move to a small town. A really small town where he can isolate himself from the hurt and pain of the big city and the people in it. "Empty Space" is a journey that happens to focus on one man, but opens the curtains on many. Sure, the cliche bad apples are front and center yet in this film, we may the attitude of some is not always black and white. Why are people the way they are? What pain motivates their anger and what do "they" need to beat societies ideas of who they should be? How can one big man, shunned and outcast, help bring a peace of sorts to the lives of others and finally, how can he himself find peace? Does the power to change lie within the individual? Or does it rely more on the acceptance of another to drive change. Then, if that's truly the case, you have to ask yourself one thing: If you've already been accepted, who are you really changing for? Then maybe you'll realize you're ready, and the change you make is for yourself. All this was what went through my mind while watching "Empty Space" and trying to take everything in. This touching story from writers Judith Krant and Paul Boring oozes these types of questions for anyone willing to really watch. Sure, we have many elements we've all seen before in various films; the beauty here is the way it's all layered together, just waiting for you to open your mind and ask the right questions. All this is showcased with an awkward romance between two awkward people, and all the comings and goings of the people around them. We know the story, we're pretty sure we know how it will end. What we don't know is the journey and that's what this film is all about. The journey from here to there. The path to accepting yourself and doing what you can to make the world a little better. On a technical level, this production actually surprised me. It features many of the same elements of a heavily budgeted studio production. Nice clean shots, some excellent panoramic views and well mixed dialog track. This is all held together with a fluid edit that pushes the story forward without a hitch. Director James Choi seems able to coax some excellent portrayals from both the lead and supporting cast, especially when the scene involves more expressionism than actual dialog. This was a great treat. Some of the best scenes are influenced more by expression than actual speech. Elizabeth Stenholt and Merrick Robison both come across as truly believable characters. They could live in your very town or even right next door. So if I must complain about something, what would it be? Honestly, my only real peeve was with the excessive use of the characters first names in conversations with each other. Rarely, when we know someone, do we constantly call them by their first name. It just feels strange. In "Empty Space" it happens quite a lot, but not so much it destroys the film on any meaningful level. To be blunt, I really did end up enjoying this movie much more than I figured I would. It's true that I groaned at the predictability of a bigger man ending up with a blind girl. Yet, by the end of the film, I had forgotten what it was I had predicted. Washed away completely. I felt I knew the direction of the film within the first fifteen minutes... yet it still felt fresh and unique as it continued to play out. When deciding how I, personally, would rate this film I went back and forth a little. In the end, this film had me thinking an awful lot. Just read the opening segment of this review to see what I mean. Any film, indie or big budget, that gets my mental gears grinding like this deserves top marks. In this case, they are much deserved. -JT