LONG STORY SHORT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Josh Lawson

Stars: Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronnie Chieng, Dena Kaplan, Noni Hazlehurst.

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Released to coincide with Valentine’s Day, Long Story Short is a high concept romantic comedy that contains a time travel element, and it has something of a Richard Curtis vibe about it (especially his 2013 romcom About Time). This is the sophomore feature for Josh Lawson (2014’s The Little Death, etc) and it taps into many of the usual tropes of the genre.

Teddy (played by Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall) is a selfish and self-obsessed git, and something of a procrastinator. A workaholic he is stuck in a job he hates rather than following his passion for photography. But he is about to be given a lesson in the importance of not wasting time as this life can go past so quickly. On New Year’s Eve Teddy meets Leanne (Zhara Newman, from Wentworth, etc), and while the romance goes smoothly enough he keeps putting off any sort of long term commitment to the relationship. Then one day while visiting his father’s grave in a cemetery he is approached by a strange elderly lady (Noni Hazlehurst) who warns him against letting the important things in life slip away. She also delivers a cryptic message that suggests in ten years time he will regret missing so much of his life and the opportunities presented to him. Has this “strange lesbian witch” given Teddy a gift or a curse?

Teddy then marries Leanne. One of the wedding gifts he receives is a tin can that contains a message saying not to open it for ten years. Then Teddy wakes up the next morning and something strange occurs. Time accelerates and Teddy’s life begins to move forward a year every few minutes. It is always his wedding anniversary, and everyone else has experienced a year of change. But for him it seems as though only minutes have elapsed. Teddy is always disoriented as he quickly tries to learn what he has missed. Over the course of time, he misses many of his life’s key moments – the birth of his daughter Talulah, his initial separation from Leanne and eventually their divorce, her new partner Patrick (a self-effacing cameo from writer/director Lawson), a doctor whom Teddy instantly dislikes, and even the death of his best friend Sam (comic Ronnie Chieng, from Crazy Rich Asians, etc) from cancer. Some of these moments are played for easy laughs, but soon the mood grows darker.

Long Story Short references the classic Groundhog Day, but this is a bit misleading. In that film Bill Murray’s character lived the same day over and over again, learning from his mistakes and changing until he became a better person. Here Teddy gets a quick glimpse of what his life will hold over the next decade and not much of it is pretty and he takes a long time to learn his valuable lessons in not letting life slip away. The film’s themes also recall other classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, although Lawson lacks Capra’s deft and overly sentimental touch, and numerous other films like A Christmas Carol. We’ve seen this sort of thing before and there’s an air of predictability to the material. Lawson fails to bring much that is fresh or surprising to the table.

Shot on a limited budget, the film makes the most of its small settings as most of the film plays out within the confines of Teddy and Leanne’s home. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that it was shot during COVID restrictions. However, there are some nice establishing shots of Sydney’s northern beaches from cinematographer Matt Toll (who also shot Lawson’s acclaimed short The Eleven O’Clock) that open up the film a little.

The two leads are pleasant enough. Spall has a hangdog expression, and he makes the most of Teddy’s confused state with an endearingly awkward performance. Newman gives a more grounded performance with the little that her character is given to do. There is a prickly chemistry between the two that drives the film. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Dena Kaplan as Teddy’s former girlfriend Becca, are given little to do, although Cheng is given some emotional moments as Sam, and he lends an acerbic touch to the underwritten role.

A willingness to suspend disbelief is needed to get the most out of Long Story Short. For a feel good romantic comedy though, Long Story Short is short on genuine laughs and emotion. It runs for an economical ninety minutes and never quite outstays its welcome.

★★☆

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