Tonight I screened Hell Is Other People, starring Richard Johnson.
Morty (Johnson) is sad. Not because of something specific that's necessarily happened to him, but more likely because of everything that hasn't. He hasn't found anyone to share his life with (though he does have a very 'present' ex who he obviously cares for), he doesn't have a career, and there isn't any proof of aspiration to do more than he's currently doing. Being broke induces a forced indifference.
Director Jarrod Whaley captures the absurdity of lonely living quite well. After all, what is time when you have nowhere to be?
Morty needs money so he claims a friend owes him for a recent 'favor', or he simply performs odd jobs to fill in the blanks (the oddest: acting as a makeshift shrink for a guy even more troubled than him). Nothing about his actions suggest things will get better, but for some reason, we don't hate him for that.
Chattanooga, Tenn. provides a perfect backdrop for the slow pace and discussions of the characters in this film. The mood feels Southern; polite with a natural tendency to get heated. All of the friends and acquaintances talk to and about one another just as we all do in real life. The women also appear to talk a lot more. Fair enough.
Morty is easily the link between all of these folks, though he's probably the least interesting, and that's what makes this comedy so tragic.
Social graces are a hot commodity in our world of new media. Though we never see Morty updating his Facebook page, we get the sense he'd be more comfortable doing that than striking up a conversation with a stranger. It's not that he wouldn't want the connection—he just doesn't know how to go about creating it (a scene where he asks his doctor's receptionist out is especially painful to watch).
Hell is a solid indie with especially good character development, but perhaps not enough "showing" vs. "telling." I do wish there had been more situations instead of scenes that linger just a tad too long, but I was engaged throughout, nonetheless.
Each step of the way, we're led to silently root for Morty's success, yet he continues to disappoint us. This happens with people in our real world, why shouldn't it happen in cinema?
Hell is Other People premieres at Cinequest 20 on February 27. Visit Cinequest.org for details.