Directed by Syd Heather
Starring David Frias-Robles & Sarah Langrish-Smith
Review by Joseph Banham
In theory, finding love should be way easier in the twenty-first century than it has been for older generations throughout history. With the internet packed full with streams of dating websites and apps, finding prospective partners should be as simple as it’s ever been. But is it possible that our over-reliance on technology to play cupid is actually having a detrimental effect on how we communicate and form relationships? Should we put down our phones, turn off social media and instead go back to good old fashioned spoken conversation?
This is the idea on which “Textual Relationship”, a new charmingly funny short film from Syd Heather, is based. The film, which is adapted from a play written by Tom Glover, follows a new couple known only by their online usernames, Uniquetalent_33 (Sarah Langrish-Smith) and DarkDemon92 (David Frias-Robles), as they meet and and start dating primarily over a dating app akin to Tinder, called Textual.com. But what seems to be a sizzling, passionate relationship in the realm of cyberspace, complete with erotic messaging and romantic dinners through webcam, doesn't quite translate into the same fervent feelings in the real world.
Both characters act as narrators; breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the camera, leading to many comic asides, often presenting amusing observations about the odd world of internet dating. The fast-pacing and humour make the 15 minute film breeze by at an enjoyable rate, giving the audience a whistle-stop tour of all the various stages of the couple’s relationship. The film feels just about right at the length it is; it gives the audience enough insight to care about the characters but doesn’t go on for too long as to labour its point.
Director Syd Heather and D.O.P. Daniel Salter definitely know how to frame a good shot. Overall the film is brilliantly filmed; finding interesting compositions in the mundane settings, and accentuating the emotional essence of the two characters’ nonchalant lives. A recurring visual idea throughout the short is having a wide two-shot whenever the virtual lovers meet in person, highlighting the awkwardness and distance between them as they realise that they are clearly not compatible for physical intimacy. It’s simple yet effective filmmaking, anchored by Smith and Robles’ strong performances. The film also boasts a terrific original soundtrack by Richard D. Taylor, whose upbeat and pleasantly catchy main theme is the perfect fit for the film’s quirky, bittersweet tone.
Whilst watching the film I was reminded of Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2014), which draws from similar themes of virtual relationships, and whether the boom of technology over the past decade has led us to feeling more out of touch and alone than ever. The film also questions the “perfect” self we present to the world on social media sites; both DarkDemon and Uniquetalent are more than comfortable interacting with each other when hiding behind the guise of their online alter egos. This is because they are able to choose what aspects of themselves they broadcast, creating a fake persona- a sort of personality showreel- which they present to the world. When face to face in the real world, they buckle under the excruciating pressure of having to bare their true selves, warts and all.
Syd Heather’s “Textual Relationship” is a very funny supporting case for finding love by existing in the here and now, as well as the importance of having real conversations with real people, not just in the fantasy world of the web.
Watch the short film trailer below: