Long Story Short (2021)
Love … Blink and you’ll miss it.
A romantic comedy that centers around a time anomaly may not be the most original idea to pursue. Indeed, audiences have seen the conceit in the classic film Groundhog Day (1993) and more recently in Richard Curtis’ About Time (2013), but Josh Lawson’s sophomore feature directorial effort Long Story Short holds its own as a thoroughly enjoyable film mostly due to a clever script and the charming performance by leading man, Rafe Spall, as Teddy — a man who always wants to put off until later what he could be doing today.
Teddy meets Leanne (Zahra Newman) at a New Year’s Eve party on Sydney harbor and mistaking her for his then-girlfriend Becka (Dena Kaplan), kissing her at the stroke of midnight. The kiss is followed up by Teddy having a case of anaphylaxis because he’s allergic to nuts, and Leanne had praline in her mouth when they kissed. It’s a funny and somewhat absurd meet-cute, but the chemistry between Teddy and Leanne is undeniable, and soon they begin dating, which leads to their engagement.
At a visit to Teddy’s father’s grave, where Teddy recounts his love for Leanne and his regret that his father didn’t get to see him get engaged to her, the couple meets a stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) who overhears their conversation. She asks when they plan to get married, and Teddy says they haven’t yet set a date as it’s not something they can rush. Leanne is clearly not particularly happy with Teddy’s deferment on a date, but it seems she is becoming used to Teddy constantly putting things off. The stranger pushes him to commit to a time, but Teddy demurs. Recognizing Teddy has an issue with seizing the moment she tells him that she has a gift that she wants to pass on to him. Teddy finds the encounter more than a little odd, but when the stranger suggests that Leanne and Teddy get married within two weeks, the wedding goes ahead.
The wedding introduces the audience to Teddy’s best friend Sam (Ronny Chieng), who, in his best man speech, reiterates that Teddy has waited far too long to marry the gorgeous Leanne; but that’s just Teddy — always waiting for later and not doing things right away. After the couple return home from the ceremony, the stranger’s gift comes into play. Every few minutes Teddy’s consciousness moves forward a year with no memory of the previous 365 days. On his wedding anniversary, every year, Teddy “wakes up” to find a year has passed for everyone but him.
As the film progresses, Teddy’s relationship with Leanne begins to unravel. Teddy (or at least the Teddy who has been living the year) is a workaholic who spends less time with his wife and daughter than he should. From the first jump in time where he realizes Leanne is pregnant on their first wedding anniversary, to subsequent jumps where he meets his daughter, he only knows what has passed in those fleeting minutes and is consistently shocked to find he hasn’t been the man that he assumed he would be in his marriage. Some of these moments are played for comic effect, but increasingly Teddy becomes lost and despondent. No one will believe that he’s moving through time, and there isn’t any way to stop it. All he can do is react as a man who was once celebrating his wedding and then finds himself missing out on everything that has happened in between. He promises to be better and to fix things, but as the “other” Teddy, it seems that he’s not working on the issues that are causing his life to fall apart.
Long Story Short isn’t a strikingly new concept, yet to call it a knock off of similar films would be unfair. It has enough original flair and heart to be successful and keep the audience engaged. A lot of what works is Rafe Spall’s endearing performance. The British actor, who more usually acts in smaller and supporting roles such as in Lone Scherfig’s One Day (2011), is an amiable and competent comedic lead in the film. Spall gets to extend his range and fully embody the hapless Teddy in a manner that has the audience hoping he finds his way back to Leanne. Zahra Newman, I Met a Girl (2020), works as a perfect counterpoint to Spall. It’s easy to believe that these two people do love each other and want to find their connection again despite the years that have gone past too quickly. Providing both a comic and emotional foil is Ronny Chieng, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), as Teddy’s best mate Sam. Chieng gets some of the best dialogue in the film and helps to humanize the imperfect Teddy. Director Lawson, who is better known for his acting career, also makes a cameo as Patrick, Leanne’s boyfriend after she and Teddy break up.
Set in Sydney, mostly in the Bondi/Bronte/Waverly areas of the Northern Beaches, the film makes the best of the beautiful suburbs. Matt Toll’s cinematography isn’t flashy but is a fine accompaniment to Lawson’s script. Lawson does make some visual gags about technology changing over the years but keeps most of the setting generic to avoid getting too bogged down in how external things change over the ten years that Teddy is traveling through. Teddy’s physicality doesn’t really change over time either, although when he catches himself in a mirror, he complains that he has aged (although it would be hard to spot this). Leanne barely ages at all. It’s only their daughter Talulah (Genevieve Vasdeva/ Amelia Scurrah/ Cheyenne Gunn) who grows up in real-time. However, Talulah doesn’t really exist as a formed character, and unfortunately, often feels like a plot device. Lawson could have extended the emotional reach of the film by giving more time to Teddy’s relationship with his daughter, but he centers on Leanne as the touchstone for the character because the film is essentially a romantic comedy.
Writer/director Josh Lawson has created a charming and kind film that keeps its pace brisk and entertaining. Audiences invest in Teddy, not only because he’s likable, but in many ways, he’s relatable. How many of us put off doing what is really important to us because the mundanities of “life” constantly get in the way? Time waits for no man, as the saying goes, and it’s certainly not waiting for Teddy. Long Story Short is a feel-good film with a simple message; carpe diem. Even if, logically, Teddy can’t seize the day in the matter of minutes he’s given each year, we know the formula well enough to expect that his journey comes with a learned lesson and a chance for him to truly seize the day — now, not later.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Nadine Whitney