Dim the Fluorescents

FIN kicked off their Park Lane takeover with a film from this year's Slamdance Film Festival. For the unacquainted, Slamdance is the younger, cheaper version of Sundance. The festival offers a venue to the lowest-budgeted of low-budget indie films. Dim the Fluorescents, which made use of an Indiegogo campaign to fund its budget of about $15,000, found a welcome home at the festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature.

 
 Audrey (Claire Armstrong) and Lillian (Naomi Skwarna).

Audrey (Claire Armstrong) and Lillian (Naomi Skwarna).

 

At a festival designed for struggling artists, the story surely hit home. Audrey (Claire Armstrong) and Lillian (Naomi Skwarna) are friends, roommates, and artistic partners. Unable to find a part in a play or a theatre to back their scripts, they make a living performing corporate role-play demonstrations. As the opening scene establishes, the two take the job quite seriously; never has an office seen this kind of dramatic flair. Audrey plays a customer service representative and Lillian plays a disgruntled customer. Not only was her order wrong, but her life is in shambles. Audrey calms Lillian from a near nervous breakdown, and seals the customer service deal by ensuring the order will be fixed. This role-play establishes the character's actual chemistry for the rest of the film; two passionate performers awkwardly trying to hold it all together, often onstage. Audrey, the calm rationalist, and Lillian, the emotional firecracker, tend to walk a tense tightrope between pathos and comedy.

 
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The film does well with its small budget. Some elements of the film are rather cliched indie tendencies; economic anxieties of characters who are actually middle class, quirky humor, mannered speech that doesn't seem to replicate any existing human beings. Still, the talky script gives plenty of material for its two little-known stars to tear through. The two female leads are rounded characters beyond "manic pixie dream girl" conventions, stuck in a relationship with each other and their art, where it's hard to tell if passion is holding them back or keeping them alive. After an interesting and unusual timeline split, the characters wind up back onstage for a messy, melodramatic, meta final act somewhat reminiscent of Birdman. Though the film falters at times, it's not bad for a directorial debut and even better as a vehicle for its actresses, brought to life with an independent spirit and admirable risk-taking.

Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup.