Oona (Bridget Collins) arrives at her recently deceased mother’s small, seaside home to clean the place up and get it ready for sale. Feeling overwhelmed on her first day there she visits a neighbor who invites the young woman to spend the night so as not to be alone. Oona agrees, and while she’s gone a homeless man named Mani (Adeel Akhtar) presumes the house for sale is unoccupied and heads in to squat for the evening.
She discovers him the next day, but after shooing him out with a broom handle to the head she guiltily tracks him down in the street and offers him her shed as a nighttime shelter. Slowly and cautiously the two develop a friendship built on their individual solitudes. Oona’s relationship with her mother was a bumpy one, but it was clearly preferable to the veiled loneliness she suffers through now. Mani’s lifestyle leaves him alone much of the time, but he has found solace before in the company of an older transient who’s now on the bring of a serious illness.
Stranger Things is an honest and uncomplicated tale of two people finding what they didn’t know they needed in each other. There’s a natural rhythm to the performances of the two leads that feels lifelike and real until the film’s final minutes, but not even an ending that rings more convenient than true can detract from what these two have built.
Oona’s efforts to work through her mother’s leftover clutter and artistic endeavors (sometimes one in the same) adds to her loneliness and her increased interest in Mani. What starts for him as simply a kindly gesture of a roof over his head becomes the first “normal” friendship he’s known in years. She’s a white woman with a home, he’s a Middle Eastern male living on the streets, but the pair are drawn to each other for what they share as opposed to their differences. Their story may start with a “meet cute,” but that’s never the story being told. Instead it’s about something bigger even as it’s presented at its most simple.
Husband and wife writers/directors Ron Eyal and Eleanor Burke work from their script, but they wisely allow the two actors to tell the story. Both Akhtar and Collins say as much with their eyes and far-off gazes as they do with their actual dialogue. Collins is a newcomer, but she shines in her debut thanks to emotions that refuse to be hidden behind her rosy cheeks. Akhtar has seen his star rise in recent years, but he remains most memorable from the darkly comic and surprisingly affecting Four Lions. He’s equally good here with a brief scene of new found joy in the bathtub being a stand out moment in the film.
That’s not to say that Burke and Eyal contribute nothing beyond their script. They shoot the film with multiple close-ups of their leads’ faces to highlight the character and emotions at play, and they make equally wonderful use of the English coast’s grey palette.
The only real misstep here comes in the final minutes in an action that doesn’t quite feel earned or legitimate. At a brisk 77 minutes there just isn’t enough time to justify what happens, and while I don’t know as a longer running time would have resolved this disconnect without adding additional issues it feels like a problem that could have been fixed with just a few more scenes. It doesn’t really damage anything that came before, but it still leaves the otherwise honest film on a mildly false note.
Stranger Things is a simple character piece that works in large part due to the performances of its two leads. The courage of its convictions falters slightly at the end, but it’s done with the best of intentions and easily forgivable.
The Upside: Two fantastic and natural lead performances; sweet, honest and uncomplicated narrative
The Downside: Ending feels more impulsive than realistic
On the Side: The two leads were given script pages one scene at a time so they would never know what was coming up next.
Stranger Things is currently available on VOD.