Directed by: #JoeScott
Is This Now is the fourth feature film from writer/director Joe Scott. It tells the story of Ingrid (Sabrina Dickens) a young rape survivor who is being moved to a new home to live with court-appointed guardians. Ingrid’s life is clearly marked with tragedy and doomed to repeat itself; at the film’s opening, she is at her most vulnerable and the world she lives in at its most dangerous. That is until she meets Jade (Brigid Shine); cool and funny, Jade introduces Ingrid to a local rock band on the rise. Inspired, Jade begins to write her own songs and it seems her life might be about to change for the better.
The film opens strongly with a sequence of a naked and vulnerable Ingrid lip-synching to a rock song in a flooded bathroom. It’s an affecting visual to open and it’s followed by a series of voiceovers from Ingrid’s abusers, which are genuinely upsetting and deeply uncomfortable to listen to. The film handles its subject matter well: managing to convey effectively that Ingrid is deeply traumatised and that her life is a daily struggle, without becoming exploitative and recognizing that she still a complex character in her own right.
The problem the film has is it does know what it wants to be. Plot points ranging from the scary (Ingrid’s new guardian is a clear abuser) to the jubilant (making friends with the band and discovering her talent) smash into each other, jump-cutting about with no clear consistency or pay off. Some scenes are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short nearly always fading to black so that any pacing is repeatedly lost with each cut. And they’re filled with increasingly poor dialogue that has characters either blandly stating what they’re thinking, what has just happened to them or even describing what is currently happening in the scene. As a result, the entire film feels flat, two-dimensional.
The epitome of this comes when Ingrid first meets Jade, (the character who sends her on her path of recovery) a trill of wind chimes underscoring the moment creating a feeling more akin to levelling up in a video game than anything tangible or real and could not be more out of place in a drama. However, the filmmakers clearly think this is sufficient and continue in this vein for another hour. The blocking is incredibly static with the camera given the one instruction of just covering the dialogue. When Ingrid is recording her first song (a high point in her character development) the camera is positioned so that her face is completely obscured by her microphone. Aside what can be inferred from the plot, this scene has no significance: the most the audience can do is watch but never engage.
Of course, there are a number of factors that could lead to such poor quality, time or budget constraints. However, according to IMDb, this film had a budget of £2,000,000 pounds, by comparison, Moonlight had a budget of $I,500,000. Obviously, a film’s budget does not guarantee quality but it does give you fewer excuses when you don’t deliver.
The performances do save it, fractionally, delivering the very poor dialogue as best they can and it’s a shame because they are let down by virtually everything else; cinematography, editing, sound design.
However Is This Now definitely has its heart in the right place, and the music sequences are directed with flair (except the exact same sequence of shots are repeated each time the band plays). Unfortunately it never manages to engage, because there is no correlation between the story and the medium with which it is told.