Director: Zev Howley
Writers: Zev Howley
Cast: Howard Murry, Lily Qian
Running time: 7 mins
Earlier this month, Danae Papadaki wrote in her review of Amidah that “a good cause can go a long way to making a number of cinematic sins forgivable” (though it did little to help in that instance). To put it bluntly, Zev Howley’s I Think She Said Her Name Was is at the other end of the spectrum: this is an almost insufferably dumb film. The key word there, however, is ‘almost’. ITSSHNW is honest about its intentions, it doesn’t have ideas above its station (arguably it doesn’t really have any ideas at all), and so it carries off its stupidity surprisingly affably.
This is encapsulated by the central performance of Howard Murry, an accomplished violin player and amiable actor, who we must assume the Director knows away from the camera, and decided to build a film around his talents. This is a gamble which broadly pays off, as Murry is a natural in front of the camera, with a talent for story-telling underwritten by a typically bloke-ish brand of distinctly Australian charisma.
Unfortunately, while Murry’s instrumentals are compelling, and his recounting of his story is engaging, when it comes to finding an excuse to showcase these talents, ITSSHNW is utterly bereft of ideas. The story is clumsily framed, with editing that lacks coherence or commitment to either a linear or non-linear structure. The action begins right away, when the elfin Lily Qian hands Murry a violin, and orders him to play – something he has never done before, but magically can do now – but we are instantly pulled out of this for our lead character to start vlogging about his experiences in the past tense. The action then heaves back and forth between past and present through a series of unconvincing and shoddily acted skits.
The problem with that is, if you are going to do the whole ‘recounting previous events’ shtick, you need to begin with that to book-end the action. Otherwise, as Howley has done, you end up giving the audience the impression you were making it up on the fly, and threw in a narration post-production to try and make some sense out of a poorly made mess. Like a less comedic Blade Trinity.
At the same time, with Murry having seemingly been given an amazing talent that enables him to change the world through music, it might have been better to frame this as an interview in his more successful future. Perhaps a classical music magazine is picking his brain in some seedy bar to find the secret behind his ability? Perhaps that would be less underwhelming than him conversing with a web-cam alone in his Nan’s flat? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
The other major problem with ITSSHNW – aside from some poor sound-editing featuring chopped-up birdsong (which in a film where music plays a central role is dropping the ball somewhat), and a wider cast delivering dialogue with all the misplaced conviction of Tommy Wiseau – is that it isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Not intentionally funny, anyway. Audiences will laugh against their will as side-characters blurt classics like “WHATYOUNUTS?” with the horrifyingly unnatural cadence of one of those cats on YouTube that’s learned to talk, however they will turn to stone at the central joke of the film.
Porn music plays every time Murry tries to remember Qian’s name, repeatedly. The worst part of that is that there is no pay-off. If a filmmaker is willing to tie the fate of their film to a single joke, the punch-line had better not fall flat as ITSSHNW’s does.
Thankfully for Howley, his film has garnered enough good will from its no-frills approach and unashamed brainlessness to survive this issue, and come away with middling marks. If he is to improve with future efforts, however, a more rigorous planning period in the run-up to filming is essential, as is finding something more substantial for the sake of a narrative.
Ultimately, the phrase “You’re lucky I like you” was tailor-made for ITSSHNW. It is poorly thought out, and slap-dash in its execution. However, it does just enough in its short run-time to charm viewers, thanks largely to a magnetic central performance, and some painfully bad takes with other actors which presumably the Director has left in in the hope they will salvage a few giggles from the audience. In the end, it is that so-bad-it’s-good quality that makes the film a mildly enjoyable throw-away of 7 minutes of your day, at least capable of alleviating the misery of your daily tube ride if viewed casually on a streaming service of your choice.