Synopsis: Teddy wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that every few minutes he’s jumping forward to the next year of his life.
Stars: Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronny Chieng, Dena Kaplan, Noni Hazlehurst, Josh Lawson
Director: Josh Lawson
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: For a while there in the ’80s, ‘90s and early 2000’s, the U.S. was infiltrated with a number of import comedies from Australia that highlighted the zany sense of humor from our friends Down Under. Titles such as Crocodile Dundee, Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Strictly Ballroom, The Castle, and heck even Babe were those slightly off-center movies that were riotously funny in one moment but could turn on a dime and find a way to tug at your heartstrings like a koala bear climbing up a drooping vine. I miss venturing to my local art house cinema and seeing what was arriving that week – nine times out of ten I’d always take a chance on an Aussie film because good or bad, they were never the least bit predictable.
Sadly, with the decline of major independent studios to champion these international films (yes, I’m talking about Miramax…sorry!) a number of films from Australia, China, and even a wealth of UK indies has failed to find a major release in the U.S. and that’s a right shame because every now and then there’s a winner you wish more people would get to see. That’s certainly the case where Long Story Short is concerned. If you skim its surface, it could feel like a familiar jaunt of a rom-com and come across at first like it lacks the oddball quirk which gave earlier exports such notoriety. However, by the end it’s clear that it possesses the same heart, game performances, and genuine charm to earn a warm reception stateside.
At a packed New Year’s Eve party Teddy (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) mistakes Leanne (Zahra Newman) for his similarly dressed girlfriend and plants a kiss on her before he realizes his mistake. A classic “meet cute” for a Sydney pair that will soon be a couple we see sharing their lives together over the next several years. Teddy puts off marriage though, convinced he has loads of time to put a ring on it…that is until he and Leanne are visiting a seaside cemetery and strike up a conversation with a curious stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) who takes a particular interest in Teddy’s non-commitment and apparent disregard for living in the present moment. The stranger manages, in only a way a fantasy like this could, to prod the two into a quickie wedding and even promises a gift that will be delivered the night of.
Cut to the best-looking “hastily” planned nuptials you’ve ever seen and Teddy indeed receiving a mysterious gift from the stranger after the guests have all left. The thing is, he can’t open it for ten years. Some gift, right? Teddy closes his eyes and when he wakes up…his unfurnished house he went to sleep in is now furnished and his new bride is quite pregnant with their first child. A year has gone by in an instant. Time waits for no man…not even Teddy. So begins a journey through, you guessed it, ten years of Teddy watching his life pass by as he becomes a father to a child he doesn’t really know, a husband to a wife he barely has spent time with, and merely an observer of his life as friends and family go through struggles of their own he never had paid attention to. And he has no control over it.
Well, that sounds bleak. Trust me, while Long Story Short has it’s moments of sadness where you’ll feel the mist forming in your eyes, there’s plenty in actor/writer/director Josh Lawson’s (who earns a reprieve in my book for his annoying performance in Mortal Kombat earlier this year) that’s light and fresh. Facing one’s fleeting life and realizing all the little details you’ve missed and took for granted is a lesson we can all hear and often but Lawson wraps it in a package that’s frequently disarming. Said package is Spall’s performance which has to walk a thin line between consistently doing/saying the wrong thing but still keeping the audience on his side. Spall continues to be an impressive presence in film and television, nicely flying under the radar in most of his work so far. Small stuff like this isn’t going to elevate him to A-list status but it does earn him credit as a dependable player in romantic comedies that don’t follow the same dusty paths. He has a Hugh Grant vibe at times but doesn’t fall into that mumbling bumbling fodder that only Grant can get away with. It’s a nice balance with Newman’s supporting role as his wife who largely has to go it alone the more Teddy is absent and detached from his family.
As with any time-traveling film (like the just released The Tomorrow War), the rules are often bendable but not quite breakable and Lawson thankfully has planned ahead with plot. That being said, audiences will likely spot how Long Story Short will close its circle far before it arrives – but darn it all if it still doesn’t have a significant emotional pang when it does. Until then, it’s feather-light watch featuring an engaging lead performance and solid work done behind the scenes which turns it up from just being a sleight television project to a worthy date night watch.