Synopsis: Shot in two true single takes, filmed simultaneously in two different parts of a city, this is a real time feature presented in split screen showcasing both ends of a wrong number phone call that has the potential to save a life.
Stars: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth, Matt Maenpaa
Director: Gavin Michael Booth
Running Length: 77 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Released in conjunction with the recently concluded National Suicide Awareness week, Last Call is a clever new tiny Canadian drama showing in virtual theaters and arriving soon in on demand platforms. You’ll likely hear about the film first because of how it was made (more on that later) but once you get acclimated to what you’re seeing, audiences are apt to find a movie boasting high stakes performances delivered with a strong, if at times a bit muddled, message that’s handled with a surprisingly delicate touch.
My advice to you before seeing Last Call is to make sure you’re ready to sit for the full duration without interruption because that’s going to be the best way to fully immerse yourself in the filmmaking experience as intended. Clocking in around 74 minutes, it shouldn’t be a challenge…you can focus in and pretend you’re back in a movie theater. I’d also suggest removing distractions as well because in all honesty there are points in the film where you’ll be tempted to check your phone quickly but, again, that would break the spell of the mood that’s being created. Know that when you hit ‘play’ the film begins and doesn’t stop, with two continuous takes being shown onscreen. Two actors were filmed at the same time in the same city in one continuous take and thought you may feel you’d be too wrapped up in paying attention to that fete of filmmaking it becomes secondary to the story rather quickly.
On one side of the screen is Beth (Sarah Booth), a single mother arriving to her shift as the night janitor at an adult education center she attends during the day. Working there after hours to subsidize her own studies, she’s distracted because her eldest son hasn’t returned home after a night at the movies. The other side of the screen has Scott (co-writer Daved Wilkins) who is polishing off his drink at a local bar before heading home for the evening. For the first fifteen minutes of the film we watch these two people settle in for their evening plans. Beth attempts to locate her son and tries to find coverage in case she needs to leave and track him down and Scott walks the several long blocks back to his home where he resumes drinking.
Then Scott makes a phone call and dials the wrong number. That’s when he connects with Beth and two things happen. The first is that our view of the situation literally changes and the second is that we become eavesdroppers on a real-time conversation between individuals that don’t know each other but are soon bonded over their emotionally revealing talk. When it becomes clear that Scott thinks he’s called a suicide prevention line and if Beth disconnects from this man she has no way of redialing. Without any personal information to go on, she continues to engage with while simultaneously using her resources to use what little clues he’s giving her to identify him and get him help.
Ok, this one goes out to all you theater nerds out there. In the 1959 musical Gypsy, there’s a second-act show stopping number where three vaudeville strip-tease artists sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”. It brings down the house and one line from that number rang through my head while watching Last Call: “You gotta get a gimmick, If you wanna get applause.” The film has a gimmick, there’s no getting around it, but it’s efficiently used and appropriately engaged. Instead of teetering with high-stake chicanery, it’s not used as a cheap trick or garishly exploited to show off director Gavin Michael Booth’s bravura filmmaking technique. It adds to the overall impact and assists particularly in the intense final act which may resort to some slightly overbaked histrionics but don’t affect the feelings toward the film as a whole. It’s highly worthy of praise because it’s so masterfully done.
If there’s one questionable aspect here, I did start to wonder how much consulting the screenwriters and filmmakers had with suicide prevention counselors. While there’s nothing disrespectful here or actions taken that raise red flags, some of the approaches employed feel quaintly pat and textbook, like someone just looked up what is the right response in a certain situation and copied it verbatim into the script. I think there could have been a better way of handling some of these more serious and serious-minded developments of the narrative.
Wilkins is a bit of a tough nut to crack, which is likely the point, but there’s something to be said about being too obtuse for this kind of role that asks you to expose some raw nerves. He could have taken a note or two from his co-star Sarah Booth (the director is her husband) because she’s often downright riveting to watch. There were moments when the attention was meant to be on Scott’s character but what Booth was doing was so interesting even in moments of silence that I just kept watching her. I almost have to think about what this would have been like if the Wilkins view had been excised completely, I think the intensity would have still been there, though the purpose of the two shots would have gone away.
Plenty of films and filmmakers have experimented with these long takes and one shot movies but I don’t remember one that has done something like this before and I think it’s by and large a success. There are some long gaps where nothing much happens and there could have been some creative ways to fill in that space but it also added to the reality of the world of these characters to not have every minute of their lives spent talking to someone. Last Call has a first rate concept and an important message, it has its gimmick and deserves the applause.