Evoking shades of early works by Joe Swanberg and The Duplass Brothers, 'Short Stay' is a realistic and entertaining comedy.
Short Stay (ND/NF Review)
During a time when most mainstream movies seem to run around thirty minutes too long, it’s refreshing to see features that can pack a full story into a brisk running time. Ted Fendt’s feature debut Short Stay clocks in at just over sixty minutes, and still manages to tell a complete—albeit somewhat lackadaisical—narrative about a generic guy living a generic life.
Similar to Kevin Smith’s famous debut Clerks, Short Stay is a slice-of-life character study about Mike (Mike MacCherone), a perpetually bored twentysomething whose job at a local pizzeria isn’t providing him with the excitement he desires out of life. When a friend of a friend offers him a job giving tours of Philadelphia, Mike reluctantly moves out of his Jersey apartment and takes the job, thus beginning a new chapter in his mundane life. Of course, the move doesn’t change the man’s outlook on life, and being a timid loser frequently results in Mike being walked all over by coworkers, roommates, and potential love interests. The feel-good movie of 2016 this certainly is not, but it’s still a film worth watching.
One of the more interesting plot points in the film revolves around Mike’s attraction to a girl who assures him that she’s in a relationship but values his friendship. It doesn’t take a sociologist to figure out exactly what’s going to happen next, and while the film doesn’t offer any significant swerves on that end, watching the whole uncomfortable disaster play out is quite entertaining. Mike’s troubles with the ladies are somewhat relatable, but mostly just sad. The scenes in which the poor bastard tries to overcome the problems in his love life evoke secondhand embarrassment in ways that very few films can.
It’s all photographed on grainy 35mm, mirroring the haziness of Mike’s life. Opting for a documentary-like aesthetic, Fendt and cinematographer Sage Einarsen seem determined to capture aspects of real life, and they frequently do so. Reminiscent of mumblecore films from the mid-2000s, Short Stay is comprised of long takes, what appears to be improvised dialogue, and consistent naturalism. There are no action-packed set pieces or larger than life plot points but the film still entertains in spite of this.
Some members of the supporting cast aren’t exactly convincing, delivering lines with little believability and the charisma of a wet sock. This is somewhat routine in these kinds of films, but it still detracts from the experience. Naturalism simply doesn’t work when those performing it don’t come across as natural. MacCherone, however, portrays the mousy protagonist in successful fashion. He’s a total loser, admittedly, but Mike is a generally easy guy to root for. It seems as though his entire goal in life is to not be a complete and utter failure, but he just doesn’t know how to succeed. In that regard, Fendt’s feature debut is thoroughly depressing, but the tone is actually comedic. There aren’t any “jokes,” per say, but the strange manner in which Mike handles all of his problems is laughable in the right way.
Films like Short Stay are an acquired taste, and can justifiably be viewed as both brilliant and lazy, depending on individual perspective. Evoking shades of the early works of Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg, and the Duplass Brothers, there should be little doubt as to what kind of cinematic experience Short Stay provides. The film does exactly what it sets out to do, and that’s always something to be appreciated.