Directed by Jerry J White III
Starring Raymond Creamer and Jessica Lynn Parsons
Indie Film Review by Seamus Conlon
This Is Us lacks an apparent climax and in the end seems to have moved directionless towards nothing. This is somewhat appropriate for a film designed to resemble the structure of memory rather than linear experience, and when the credits roll we feel not so much disappointed as much unsurprised that this collage of reflections swam to no particular point.
The film documents the slightly supernatural psychological experience Daniela (Jessica Parsons) undergoes following her attempts to break up with boyfriend Brendan (Raymond Creamer). She is unable to break up with Brendan with the resolve she wishes to, as she finds herself slipping backwards into different pieces of time and space from their relationship. Daniela’s unwilled exploration of her three year romance with Brendan follows neither a consistently backward of forward chronological movement, and she re-lives each experience as her future self planted mysteriously into the past, disordering the course of her and Brendan’s relationship with her foreknowledge of its destiny.
Director Jerry J. White III and screenwriter Raymond Creamer (multitasking as both author and star of the film) are admirably ambiguous as to what exactly enables this deviation from the usual laws of space and time. The film bears a quite obvious resemblance to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another romance film, charged with a hallucinatory touch, in which memories melt into each other to the distress of its baffled protagonists. But whereas Michel Gondry’s film had an explicit sci-fi explanation for how surreal events were able to unfold, This Is Us omits to give us a concrete understanding, and this is wisely done since whether or not Daniela’s brief odyssey through the past is actual or illusory is unessential to the film.
This is a claustrophobic chamber piece in which the spotlight almost never drifts away from Daniela and Brendan, and Parsons and Creamer successfully maintain intensity throughout the feature. But in a film so verbally focused, so tilted toward drama rather than spectacle, visual communication is pivotal to exercise the viewer’s eye, and whilst Creamer displays a diverse procession of faces to us, Parsons looks almost continuously bemused throughout the film. In many respects, principally its attention to word rather than image, This Is Us seems more a piece of theatre than of cinema. The extremely spare musical score could surge in at moments of high drama, but instead is largely absent and only steps in for transitional sequences. White’s decision to film the drama in a purely observant, visually unobtrusive style is refreshing when he uses long takes rather than tiresome talking-heads montages, but this stylistic plainness does mean that the artifice of cinema itself is never brought in at all to communicate the emotional strife.
It is lacking in visual and technical audacity, and certainly isn’t a film it would be a tragedy to see only on a small screen, but This Is Us shows thought and judgement, and may hint at further formal creativity by its authors in future.