Long Story Short

Good lead performances but they do not lift a screenplay with a tricky premise and strained humour

M, 95 minutes

2 stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

What if you woke up one day with a whole year gone, just like that? We just did, I hear you say.

A young husband goes to sleep on his wedding night, waking up the next morning to discover a year has passed. His wife is 18-weeks pregnant, their home has had a makeover and he can’t remember a thing.

Engaging Rafe Spall, Timothy’s son, plays the part of newly wed Teddy who always seems a bit frantic and confused. He met his wife quite by accident on New Year’s Eve. Mistaking her for his dark-haired partner in the same red dress, and sharing a midnight kiss before they realise that they don’t know each other.

Turns out he and new lady Leanna (Zahra Newman) are much better suited. They marry without delay, which is unusual for chronic procrastinator Teddy, and set themselves up in a property with ocean views in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

It’s not far from spectacularly positioned Waverley Cemetery where Teddy’s father lies buried. On one of Teddy’s visits to his grave he has a strange encounter with an older woman (Noni Hazlehurst) wandering among the headstones.

Writer-director Josh Lawson takes a risk with her character. She has no name, is simply The Stranger who delivers Teddy a cryptic message. This is reinforced when her present appears amongst the wedding gifts, with a cautionary ‘Do not open for 10 Years’ message attached.

Is she a kind of wicked fairy godmother who shows up during festivities to lay a curse on happy newlyweds? Or is she a wandering lost soul, wanting to share her life’s learned wisdom?

The problem with Teddy, it becomes clear a short while into the marriage, is that he spends too much time away at the office. Leanna and little Tallulah (played as the years fly past, by a series of beguiling little girls) don’t see enough of him.

We get it. While it’s not a patch on one of the best time-travel movies ever, Groundhog Day, it’s the familiar story of fathers spending long, long hours at work, away from home. Teddy sees so little of his daughter he barely recognises her.

So, what does Teddy do? We know what he doesn’t do. His love of photography is on hold. Leanne, however, aspires to become a novelist and by the end of the decade she is established.

It must be some job that Teddy has, to be able to afford the property they share. How else could he and Leanne afford to live where they do?

unintended irony of living in a great location they can only afford through Teddy’s long hours at the office

This creates in the film an unintended irony. A couple living in the great location that the film is keen to display to best advantage, can only afford to pay for it if Teddy works hard. Consequently, he is rarely seen.

The city’s glorious Eastern Suburbs, including Bronte Beach, and possibly Rose Bay and South Head too, are showcased in the location shots that boost the city’s beachside lifestyle.

The opening shot of the Harbour Bridge lit up to party on NYE looked like a promotional tourism video. For this former Sydney-sider, the endowments of Sydney keep cropping up here in ways the narrative doesn’t always support.

What about all those young Sydney couples who pay massive mortgages for homes they can barely afford? No wonder Teddy has to spend his life at the office, coming home to find his baby daughter has grown into a little girl and the potted ficus plant stands 10 feet tall.

This is the second feature for Josh Lawson, after The Little Death.  The writer-director and actor makes a cameo appearance here as Patrick, Leanne’s new boyfriend. His schtick as a psychiatrist is doubly challenging for the ex-husband Teddy having a bit of a meltdown.

Long Story Short has a cute, high concept that meshes with many young couple’s reality. The lead actors, Spall and first-time feature actor Newman, who has a strong track record in television and theatre, are fine.

The best thing going for Long Story Short is how well they both inhabit their characters. It’s disappointing that the screenplay doesn’t have enough humour or spirit or surprise to keep us interested in them.

First published in the Canberra Times on 14 February 2021