Directed by: #DanTonkin
Short Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
Short film Jenna the Great sees the titular Jenna (Dunnico), a young woman with a somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards academia, now facing serious consequences if she fails to complete her assigned essay on Aristotle by Monday. In an utter panic, she rushes to the library to borrow (steal) a book on her subject but is shocked to discover the next morning that this is no ordinary book. In fact, it appears to have brought the great philosopher himself racing almost two and a half millennia through time and crashing into her twenty-first century life, setting up a crazy culture clash for the ages.
Jenna the Great was created to reach audiences of students and teachers alike, made with the participation of real students as part of an initiative to allow them the opportunity to not simply observe but also participate in the filmmaking process. Intended as a prospective pilot for an anthology series, one where each episode would revolve similarly around a specific historical figure, this initial entry is a decent first step and shows that this idea may have legs and what they have achieved here is a film that should definitely appeal to its young target demographic.
The film does get a lot of things right. It has some genuine laughs as well as a big heart, and there are certainly times where the writers should be applauded with some of the unpatronising and encouraging life lessons the film projects. What the film could do with is perhaps a more assured balance of tone. There is of course no reason that a project such as this cannot be a silly, whimsical, light-hearted adventure yet still be anchored by some more mature motifs and for the most part, the film manages to walk that tightrope with pretty sure footing.
But there are definitely a few moments where this #shortfilm does tend to lean almost too far one way or the other. Drawn-out physical gags or the occasional infantile dialogue can come across as overly childish, yet other times juxtaposing themes such as alcoholism are randomly thrown into the mix. This is not an unwelcome subject by any means and the education of such things to young people is obviously vital, but it is for that reason that themes such as these need to be given the proper depth and context as part of a wider educational piece, rather than appear as a fleeting afterthought.
In terms of how the cast fares here, we do get to enjoy a very endearing and textured performance from Trench as famed philosopher Aristotle, who not only gives a sense of belief to the role but also delivers the films more poignant dialogue with the gravitas and dignity it hopes for. Dunnico also puts in a decent turn, providing some standout solo moments which highlight the films aforementioned big heart, but where the film really comes alive is when we get to see the two of them together; their contrasting personalities brilliantly rivalling one another for our entertainment early on before harmonising to make a much greater whole as the film shifts into a more mature gear towards the end.
Jenna the Great does take its time finding its stride and may still have some kinks to work out, but ultimately it does deliver a remarkably sweet and important message for its intended audience. If this is in fact the start of something bigger, the filmmakers have at least given themselves a pretty decent blueprint to work from.
Watch the trailer here: