The beauty of the short film is in its capability to deliver profound statements of truth in bite-sized time increments. Director/writer Sean Meehan explores the concept of a business built upon paid rehearsals of difficult conversations in his short film Total Performance. The film follows aspiring actress Cori Sweeney as she completes assignments for Total Performance while also navigating the pitfalls of her career and love life. But, as the film suggests, all of the preparation in the world can’t prepare you for all of life’s little tragedies.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Sean Meehan
Written By: Sean Meehan
Starring: Tory Berner, Steven Conroy, and Caitlyn Berger
How many times have you practiced a difficult conversation, job interview, or speech in the mirror prior to its execution? My guess would be quite a few times — I certainly have! In Total Performance, aspiring actress Cori Sweeny (Berner) gets paid to simulate arguments with high paying customers. While on a date, Cori gets hammered with questions by Tim (Conroy) about the emotional ramifications of doing such a job long term. Cori holds back the truth about how it makes her feel, much like she does whenever clients ask for advice, which is a no-no per Total Performance policy.
Cori and her fellow actors at Total Performance interact with people who are experiencing some of the worst moments in their lives. Her clients experience infidelity, job loss, and betrayal, and she claims the simulations do not affect her except in very extreme cases. The short enlightens us to the real impact of these interactions through how Cori deals with her own life.
Things I Liked
The quality of the film is surprising. Cinematographer Chris Loughran provided us with no shortage of interesting camera shots. The camera movements are pleasing to the eye and help the story flow. The 18-minute runtime is over in a flash because the content is original and thought-provoking. The film inspires thought about the disconnect between our feelings and the way we prepare to present them to the world.
The people and characters in this short are exceedingly relatable. The plot and storyline touch on difficult moments in all walks of life. From relationship woes to career rejections, the story connects a variety of ordinary people with common problems through a unique type of business. While our main character is a twenty-something actor, it is not difficult for a viewer outside of that profession to understand her struggles with landing a job.
Another virtue of this film is it addresses our urge to pretend to be someone else. Cori sends an email to a casting director and resists the urge to gush about what she loves about the part, thus eliminating any standout potential in her email. Maybe she thought the director would think she was brown-nosing for inserting a blurb about what “spoke” to her. It is a mistake many of us make in correspondence. When we neglect to reveal our true selves, we miss out on opportunities well-suited to our passions.
The Actors Experience Disconnect That May or May Not Have Been Planned
Some of the actors’ delivery seemed a bit clunky and rushed like they hadn’t had time to find a natural chemistry with the other players. A specific example of this is a scene where Cori and Tim walk home from their date. They are talking about their backgrounds, flaws, etc, and the scene is bone-chillingly awkward. Their lines collide, each person answering a previously asked question, and it is complete chaos. If I were on that date, I would feel completely disconnected from the other person who seems unable to slow down long enough to hear a question, pause for thought, and then answer intelligently.
Another unsavory acting flub includes unnaturally long pauses between players. Of course, this is a film focusing on the most troubling, awkward conversations one can have in a lifetime. This may be a deliberate act meant to build tension with the audience. Either way, some of the interactions threw up red flags for me and made me question the quality of the acting.
Sometimes, no matter how much we plan, prepare, and rehearse, life does not cooperate with our aspirations. The story plunges us into thoughts about the quality of natural interactions. In Total Performance, you can feel the optimism of the clients after they practice their delivery; they assume that because they rehearsed the situation it will now sway in their favor. They will be freed from their pain, or spare the person they care for some harm.
Obviously, a short film cuts certain details and inconsequential information from the story to make it “short,” but a few pieces of the dialogue lead to unjust dead ends. A few extra bits of dialogue could have remedied this issue.
Total Performance is flawed because of its acting and a few lackluster story bits, but its underlying message makes it worth watching on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
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