Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Written & Directed by #RaphaelGonzalez
What would be worse for a rising young actor? Facing a room full of cynical critics or a classroom of obnoxious school pupils? In Raphael Frost Gonzalez’s excellent short The Performance, both worlds meld together with simple yet startling effect.
Marvin Bigsby (Taylor Hancock) arrives to a careers day at the middle school of his younger brother. Ready to wow his young audience with first-hand Hollywood acting, Marvin unexpectedly comes under fire from a prickly class teacher (Tracy Martin) and her flippant young students.
Nominated for TMFF Best Actor, and a regular of Gonzalez, Taylor Hancock is perfectly cast as the hapless Marvin whose cool demeanour soon unravels in an increasingly awkward 8 minutes. It’s not hard to imagine the countless frustrated young actors Marvin represents and Hancock brings this to the screen with assured believability. When he finally snaps and lets his unconscious boil over, it’s also an emphatic moment for all the educators of the world who have to bite their lips day after day in hostile classrooms.
Gonzalez stages the single scene skilfully with a simple but effective technique; a circular frame where Marvin takes centre stage. The connotations are interesting. Is it a spotlight of sorts? Or, is there a more cynical edge to the shot? Perhaps Marvin is in the middle of a target, his performing career reduced to the point where almost nothing else fills the screen? His classroom audience are kept out of sight; Gonzalez holds the single shot on Marvin which, ingeniously, allows us to share both perspectives. We also end up bombarded with one tricky question after another but, equally, we’re facing Marvin in the classroom just as the pupils are. We're in both sets of shoes.
The most obvious, yet most difficult, question to answer of course concerns the film’s title. Is it a reference to the performance that Marvin (prepped to deliver an ill-advised segment from R-rated Boogie Nights) never gets round to sharing? When Marvin is ironically greeted with applause from the kids, convinced he’s just delivered “the best acting ever”, Marvin, and the viewers, understand how his rant has unintentionally taken on new meaning from meltdown to performance. For the pupils anyway, this is the performance that Marvin does give and they’re delighted, urging him on for an encore. Yet, once more, we share an uncomfortable perspective with Marvin. Is this - frustrated, disillusioned and, ultimately, misunderstood - the performance he’s destined to give, again and again? At this point, Gonzalez’s camera zooms into close-up and Marvin, semi-sarcastically acknowledging the clapping class, turns to face the camera and signs off with a world-weary “Thank You”. His inhibitions may have returned but his tone of weariness says it all. Perhaps, for Marvin, this is as good as it’s going to get. And he's far from happy about it.
With passing similarities to Stella Velon’s The Critic, which also explores the pressured realities behind a Hollywood star, The Performance is a winning short worthy of its TMFF accolades. If Marvin’s performance doesn’t quite end up going according to plan, Gonzalez’s film certainly does.
Watch the entire film here: