Quick Hit: A quirky love story that does a great job at telling a story about mental illness without completely making light of it.
If you Google “films about mental illness” you get a selection of films like A Beautiful Mind, Black Swan, Rain Man, and Silver Linings Playbook. I like all of those movies, but none of them really remind me of today’s film from SLIFF 2017, What If It Works. It screens tonight (11/8/2017) at the Tivoli theatre at 7:15 and 8:45p this coming Sunday 11/12/2017. Here’s a link to the SLIFF page.
What if it Works follows Adrian McKinnon (Luke Ford), a severe sufferer of OCD. He has recently fallen deep into his rituals due to a break up with his girlfriend. Now living in his father’s garage, he is on a suspension from his work, and has left a mandatory therapy home because he couldn’t handle the therapy sessions. After a meet cute, he comes into contact with Grace (Anna Sampson), who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID – also see Split).
This movie does a really good job at maintaining a distance from the humor that can be gathered from mental illness (something you’d see in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) but also doesn’t allow the film to go to too dark of a place (Black Swan). The depiction of OCD is especially spot on, and this makes sense because writer/director Romi Trower apparently has a brother that suffers from OCD. Romi also has an aunt who specializes in DID, so it’s good to see she was writing what she knew.
The performances from the two leads are really strong. Luke Ford is a method actor, and his commitment shows through, in particular when Adrian’s rituals are shot on screen. For most Compulsives, rituals are a huge part of their life, and it is with a mixture of sadness and gladness that Ford portrays things like touching the stone and the door a hundred times before leaving. Anna Sampson does a similarly strong job changing her body language to meet Grace’s different personalities. “G” is more visibly relaxed, with angular parts of her body sticking out, while Grace is more closed up and shy. It’s evident almost immediately who we are with just by the body language, and that’s why she’s probably the best part of the film.
One of the weakest parts of the film is the development of the side characters. Sledgehammer (Grace’s love interest, kind of) is severely underdeveloped, coming across as a caricature of a bad guy at times, despite not actually being a bad guy. Similarly, I thought that Adrian’s ex seemed to be a bit of confusion, and never quite understood her inclusion in the film past the initial episode. With a little polish, these characters could have been a bit more complex and understood, and it would have made the movie better overall.
One thing that I thought was possibly even stronger than the acting was the camera and the colors used throughout the film. Shot in Australia, street art plays a huge part of the background of many scenes (Grace is a street artist). This lends a ton of color to the scenes, particularly when Adrian and Grace are interacting. The camera feeds into this because it allows focus and movement to play into the scenes, with the set design and everything to be extremely pleasing to the eye.
Overall, I really enjoyed What If It Works. With some extra polish, the film could have been better, but I think it was a terrific love story that will leave you feeling warm inside. Go check it out at the Tivoli!
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"