Directed by: Sean Patrick Leonard
Starring: Thom McCloud
Short Film Review by: Benjamin Schofield
Jeff is waiting at a level crossing for five minutes. He uses this time to rehearse the speech he’s about to make at his first AA meeting. Now, I’m a sucker for a single location drama. There’s little more satisfying in a film than a simple premise executed perfectly. A simple premise executed poorly, on the other hand, is just simple. Unfortunately, short film Step One very much falls into the latter category.
There was a great opportunity here to explore the psychological makeup of Jeff and his alcoholism, and the film even seems to think its doing just that. The slow editing and dramatic performance from Thom McCloud suggests a sense of gravitas that’s just not matched by the dialogue; it presents a sheet of corrugated cardboard as though its an unseen work of Shakespeare. And all without a drop of irony, humour or self-awareness in sight - just plain flat writing.
The film’s visuals are actually pretty great though. The cinematography is tight on Jeff, creating a sense of claustrophobia and unease, which perfectly fits with how he seems to feel in this situation. The editing is genuinely brilliant; slow at first but fast-paced when necessary and working perfectly with the sound design to create high energy, distressing moments.
But seriously, the dialogue.
Alcoholism is a complicated and serious issue and requires a level of sophistication and nuance when discussed. It’s also an issue that comes up time and time again in film, literature, music and all sorts. So when you want to make a film solely focused on this theme, you better have something original and insightful to say about it. Alas, not the case here. Jeff’s struggle to literally say the word alcoholic is clumsy and cliché, and it’s the whole film. The entire film. Just Jeff saying “I’m an aaaa”, “I’m”, “’I’m an alco”, “I’m an aallllcahhh”. That’s the poignant commentary that Step One has to offer.
Also, his name is Jeff. My sincerest apologies to all the Jeffrey’s watching but it’s a fundamentally funny name for a film that doesn’t appear to be trying to be funny at all.
The first line of the film – the first words from our protagonist – the opening to the film’s monologue – the all-important establishment of the film’s tone – is “hi, my name is Jeff”. Now, if you’re not familiar with the memes these kids are into these days, you might think it’s a relatively weak opener but nothing too offensive. However, if you’re under the age of thirty, you’re probably having a good chuckle to yourself – I mean, they might as well have called him Pepe the Frog. The film has some serious problems, and some saving graces, but all that I’m really able to take from it is this: his name is Jeff.