Short of the Day
A poignant look at modern romance and confidence from writer-director Benjamin Cleary.
I met my wife online. Rather, I met my second wife online. I married for the first time pretty young, fresh out of college, and spent most of my 20s in that relationship before it ran its course. In the aftermath, I’ll admit to being a little inept when it came to talking to women. I had last entered a relationship as a teenager and suddenly I found myself surrounded by adults. It was different, dating at that age, and I struggled with confidence and composure, both dwarfed by my insecurities about how I expressed myself. Until I got online.
Online, I didn’t have to talk, I didn’t have to perform off-the-cuff, I could present myself in writing – which obviously, as a writer, I was far more comfortable with – I could think about what I was saying before saying it, and most importantly, I could edit myself before sending. Being able to express myself in a way that was more natural to me at the time gave me the confidence and composure I needed to be able to get back in the dating world. But that first real-life meeting, the insecurities came flooding back. What if I couldn’t be myself the way I’d been online? What if nervousness or anxiety prevented me from projecting myself in person the way I’d projected myself in words, the way I really am? I almost bailed on the date I was so worried; I came a hair’s breadth from standing up my life.
Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer understands the crippling anxiety of that moment: when you have to take an online relationship into the real world, when you have to remove the digital veil between you and the object of your affection. His film’s protagonist, Greenwood (Matthew Needham), has a speech impediment that causes him great anxiety, especially in the romantic realm, which leads him to the world of online dating, where he is able to express himself as mellifluously and carefreely as he’s always wanted. As a result, his real self – not the one burdened by insecurities – shines through and he strikes up a potential relationship. When the woman he’s been writing wants to take things to the next, real-world level, however, his anxieties and insecurities come flooding back.
If the title of this film sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because it won the Oscar last year for Best Short Feature, and deservedly so. Stutterer has shades of a more-grounded Her and resonates with the same sort of muted emotional intensity as that film, while injecting its own unique take on the benefits and detriments of modern technology’s influence on modern romance. Needham delivers a performance that dares you to blink for fear of missing one millisecond of his tortured self-deliberations. If this was feature-length, he’d be a Best Actor nom for sure.
I’m going to go way out on a pretentious limb and say that if Samuel Beckett was alive, this is the kind of film he would dig the hell out of, and right he should. Stutterer is a depiction of 21st-century social isolation done right, and it demands your viewership.