Directed by: #RicardoLorenzo
An Unlikely Story starts off with two disclaimers. The first tells us that it deals with suicide and murder so viewer discretion is advised, while the next shows us a quote by Stephen Hawking that ends with “… you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and life in general.” This double hander reflects the tone of the short film that follows – the dark balanced with the darkly comedic.
After a startling scene showing Jeff (Manny Belliard) kneeling on top of Syl (Jeanette Berman) with a knife raised above her, we pivot back in time to their first meeting. They’re sat in a café, talking. Syl wants to be killed and eaten, and Jeff is willing to eat her. “You’re not my first,” Jeff says. “I’m sitting here with an actual cannibal?” she says, amazed. He tells her that he likes to get to know the person he is about to eat, but she seems unsure. “I’m looking for a quick deal here,” she says. But she ultimately decides to go along with his plan.
It’s a surreal and morbid conversation but the dynamic rings true, acting as a metaphor for what can happen in the early stages of dating. Two people on different wavelengths but not communicating.
So they get to know each other. They walk. Jeff tells terrible jokes, Syl disparages Superman – scenes straight out of a hundred romantic comedies. The director/co-writer Ricardo Lorenzo adds some darker touches though; when they’re shopping in a hardware store for something to kill her with, Syl picks out a circular saw, and Jeff gently takes it from her and puts it back. “This will make a mess,” he says.
We feel ourselves rooting for these two, but rooting for what exactly? We don’t know. We know that Syl has always suffered with depression and wants to die, and that Jeff is willing to help her. Yet they seem to get on well, and we feel Jeff becoming more attached than he should. “Why do you want to die?” he says.
They go back home. A strange television show involving a giant duck plays in the background. We are in some strange alternate world, just a little off centre from the real one. Only a later conversation about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reminds us that they are still attached to the real world. Just.
Eventually Syl grows impatient and demands he end her life. We repeat the scene at the start, but Jeff can’t do it, says he never had any intention of doing it. Syl feels betrayed, says this is all she ever wanted, that she was up front about her intentions, while he hasn’t been. It’s a scene reminiscent of Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer, albeit through a surreal and darker lens.
It’s after this, however, that the film loses steam. There is more shopping, a plan is made, there is a suicide attempt, then in the final scene they are both eating and everything is fine. It’s a sharp left turn, a happy ending that doesn’t feel deserved. We never really get to know them that well so the ending doesn’t land with quite the gravitas that it should. The last few minutes seem unfocused, balanced precariously on themselves.
But in spite of this, it’s a charming story about two people connecting in a strange world a lot like ours. We all know that dating can be tricky, and this entertaining short film explores this idea and runs with it. Taking themes of consent and expectation and heightening them to darkly funny extremes.