Are You Okay?
Jul 12, 2023
Shaun Fagan, Sarah Louise-Chadwick
Growing up near Liverpool, I’m all too familiar with the pressures placed on its’ residents – particularly men – to keep their struggles locked inside and not to talk about problems lest weakness be perceived. It’s hardly a phenomenon unique to the city, but one that is brutally but beautifully realised in Are You Okay?, a short centring on mental health and the importance of opening up.
Carl (Shaun Fagan) and Leanne (Sarah-Louise Chadwick) are a brother and sister who are undertaking a journey. The pair have broken down at the side of the road, but Carl is simultaneously experiencing a breakdown of a much more personal sort. His mental health issues have ascended to the degree that Leanne tries to seek medical help – without alerting him to her actions. Whilst help is on the way, the siblings confront hard truths.
Are You Okay? is a hard-hitting and emotional short film that portrays mental health struggles, necessary confrontation and the importance of talking in a thoughtful and careful manner. The film’s central relationship is a complex one, that will speak to the heart of anyone who has had a similar situation in their personal lives. Sarah-Louise Chadwick’s Leanne is shown to be stressed and weary as a result of attempting to manage her brother’s struggles, yet still patently devoted to ensuring his safety and interests are taken care of. The guilt Shaun Fagan’s Carl feels due to his depression is similarly evident through the performance and script – with his frustration towards his sister being a convincing example of how emotional unavailability and inability to proper communicate can result in self-destructive and harmful behaviour.
Fagan and Chadwick give powerful performances – which are the driving force of the film’s crisp 7-minute runtime. Fagan in particular nails the struggle men feel when stoicism gives way to isolation, and brilliantly realises a character that is both difficult yet desperately empathetic. Sarah-Louise Chadwick’s hardened scouse sister Leanne juggles both Carl’s unpredictable and erratic behaviour with a need to call for help. She imbues a sense of power and strength to the role, but keeps Leanne open and willing to receive Carl when he is ready to talk. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the film would lack much of the impact it has without the leads’ brilliant efforts, but Jack McLoughlin’s personal directing style allows them to thrive.
The film’s brevity is both a strength and a weakness – with the audience given little insight into Carl’s actual condition or the pair’s history. It allows the situation to be interpretive, but also means the characters feel like they’re not quite fully fleshed-out. The film also raises an interesting comparison between a mental breakdown and a vehicular one, but doesn’t really explore the potential raised by this, such as being able to simply call an expert for a straightforward mechanical fix compared to the difficulties of addressing mental health issues.
Fundamentally however, the film is both solidly made and emotionally touching for what it is. It carries a powerful message that it reaches in a natural and believable way through its simple story, but it is the performances of its two leads that really shine.