Long Story Short review – Josh Lawson’s time-bending romcom lands with a hollow ‘YOLO’ | Film

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Ever felt like you’ve lost a whole year of your life in the blink of an eye? This is the relatable – and strangely prescient – premise of Australian actor Josh Lawson’s second feature film, Long Story Short.

On paper, it sounds like a perfect post-Covid movie: a charming high-concept romcom that offers timely introspection about seizing the day. What better way to welcome back cinemagoers who find themselves mysteriously 12 months older since their last visit?

But on the screen, it never quite lives up to the potential of its own idea. Long Story Short feels claustrophobic and rushed, hamstrung by its Groundhog Day plot mechanics. There are plenty of laughs throughout but, as they’re never quite married with the film’s sickly sentimentality, the romcom’s grand ideas about life and love land with a hollow “YOLO” (the term is used more than once, not always ironically).

Josh Lawson’s Long Story Short falls short when compared with other time-loop romcoms hitting the screen, writes Meg Watson.

Though Harold Ramis’ iconic film gets mentioned a few times throughout, Long Story Short owes more to A Christmas Carol (and its various descendants) than Groundhog Day. Teddy (Rafe Spall), an apparent serial procrastinator, isn’t doomed to repeat the same day forever. Instead he’s racing through time, jumping forward to his next wedding anniversary, every few minutes.

This “gift” – given to him by a mysterious stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) in a graveyard – shows him the error of his ways. Or, at least, it tells us all about them. In each annual snapshot, Teddy’s new wife Leanne (Zahra Newman) narrates the state of their struggling marriage. The main problem, she says, is that he’s always at work, never making commitments to his home life. But paradoxically, we don’t ever actually see him at work – almost the entire film occurs within their family home. We don’t even know what his job is.

This detail gets a winking acknowledgment at the end of the film but it’s a distracting omission, especially when combined with all the sweeping drone shots of this young couple’s beachside property in Bronte. What does this guy do for a living?

Noni Hazlehurst and Rafe Spall in a scene from Long Story Short.
Long Story Short owes more to A Christmas Carol than Groundhog Day, with a mysterious stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) dooming the protagonist to race through time to discover the error of his ways. Photograph: Brook Rushton

There’s a similar sense of disconnection with the relationship itself. The film rushes to cover 10 years in 95 minutes, so we get very little introduction to Teddy and Leanne’s life before this point. It’s hard to feel that invested in a crumbling love story when you’ve only seen the couple happy once, on their wedding day.

Newman, whom Guardian Australia has previously called “one of Australia’s most remarkable actors”, does a fine job with what little she’s given. Spall has a winsome, manic energy that carries the film’s consistent comedy (although attempts at anything outside that are weirdly mawkish). And Ronny Chieng is a welcome presence, adding his trademark acerbic touch as Teddy’s best friend.

With such a small cast – there are only a couple of other actors, including a cameo by Lawson – Long Story Short almost seems like a Covid production: a tiny, tactical shoot to keep the industry going in tough times. But it was actually filmed in the tail-end of 2019. Lawson has explained the film’s scope was so small because of budget constraints.

Zahra Newman in Long Story Short.
Zahra Newman as Leanne in Long Story Short. Photograph: Brook Rushton

“Getting money for film is really, really tricky so I wrote this primarily indoors with a small amount of actors to really just minimise the budget and try and get this made,” the film-maker told The AU Review. “I was so frustrated I couldn’t make a movie after The Little Death.” (His debut film was another decent comedy showcase that didn’t quite translate to a satisfying whole’.)

With that in mind, it’s hard not to imagine a better version of Long Story Short – one that was given a bit more time to develop the dramatic elements of the script and a bit more production money too, at least enough for Teddy to travel beyond a few blocks of his house.

Unfortunately we didn’t get that movie and it falls short when compared with the other time-loop romcoms hitting our screens. If you really want to embrace the infinite wisdom of “YOLO”, there are better ways to spend your time this Valentine’s Day.

• Long Story Short is in cinemas now

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Long Story Short review – Josh Lawson’s time-bending romcom lands with a hollow ‘YOLO’ | Film

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