Reviews Short Narrative

A Disagreement About Flies (2020) – 4 stars

Director: Kali Davis

Writer: Kali Davis & Yugo Nakamura

Cast: Zelda Williams, Anthony Sneed

Running time: 12mins

The maddening scramble to gain traction in the early stages of a career can take a massive toll on someone. It can leave them physically exhausted, mentally anguished, and in that state, it can also put an extraordinary strain on even the dearest of relationships.

A Disagreement About Flies is a sweet, funny and thought-provoking short film, which will no doubt serve as an important reminder to its audience – especially those who reside in LA – not to take their partners for granted. The script from director Kali Davis and Yugo Nakamura is tight, polished, and without going into detail manages to showcase the contrasting fortunes of a pair of complete and complex characters – as the differing trajectories of their careers pulls them in opposite directions.

Lydia (Zelda Williams) plays an exhausted young writer in California – a woman perpetually having to shrug off the refusals of producers, while also having to present a veneer of gratitude for simply being near Hollywood. In any other society it would be justifiable for her to gripe to her cab driver about the endless rut she is in as an artist presumably working several ‘side hustles’ to make ends meet, while banal, uncreative scripts are churned out by the same Hollywood machine that won’t give her work the time of day – but of course in the land of LA LA this is impermissible. Instead, she has to witheringly nod her way through an insufferable barrage of places she absolutely must check out from her uber driver.

Williams is excellent here – evidently not wanting to simply admonish the well-meaning if tiresome cabbie, but gradually losing the will not to lay into him with every amazing recommendation he vomits forth – and in a nutshell we know who she is. She is still in touch with her empathy, with her human side, but in an oppressively sunny megacity where she is constantly told if things will work out with the right attitude, she is finding it increasingly difficult to grin and bear it as she finds just how vacuous that mindset is.

By contrast, her partner Damion (Anthony Sneed) seems to be coasting through life with what initially seems to be an infuriating happy-go-lucky attitude. A stage magician who we gradually learn is on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream, he is not only seeing his career outpace Lydia’s, but he seems oblivious to how this is impacting her. At the same time, Lydia is so transfixed with her own career’s flatline that she comes across as almost resentful at Damion’s success – without considering how this in turn might make him feel.

Things come to a head as the pair attempt to sleep in the suffocating heat of their apartment, when an unseen cloud of flies shake Lydia from her slumber. Seemingly obsessed with the invisible foe, she begins swatting – waking Damion hours before he is due to head to the airport for an important trip. While he begins constructing a strange trap with half-filled wine bottles to gradually wipe out the household plague, Lydia insists that they cannot afford to be so lackadaisical about the situation – they need to address this, and they need to address it now.

It soon becomes clear, however, that the world’s most efficient bug-bomb won’t really change anything. The flies have become a proxy war, where two entities unwilling to face up to a greater existential threat can find a more convenient, less productive arena to hint at their frustrations regarding each other.

While A Disagreement About Flies might not be especially ground-breaking in this method of storytelling, it manages to execute its simple story with precision, humour and heart – something which elevates the production no end. We see why each character is frustrated – but we also see both of them as three-dimensional characters, meaning we also encounter the charms which brought them together in the first place.

Damion is in some regards guilty as charged when it comes to having been emotionally blinkered regarding his and Lydia’s contrasting fortunes. However, he also shows an earnest and magnetic desire to lift her spirits – finding the energy in the local supermarket to prat about with a goofy magic trick – and accommodate her needs even when it places him in significant discomfort – sleeping in the car ahead of his flight so the apartment can be debugged for her while he is gone.

At the same time, Lydia is unfairly bitter regarding Damion’s success – and overlooks some of the small things he does to try and keep her happy in favour of a grander narrative that he simply doesn’t care. On the other hand, we see that she can be caring in her own right, both in the moment she realises she has to save her goldfish from the fumes of the bug-bomb – a living emblem of the home they are making together – and when her face becomes awash with regret upon realising Damion also feels as though he does not have the support of his partner.

In the end, all this builds to a satisfying and believable conclusion. Of course, in the years beyond the credits, who is to say what is in store for this couple, as the pressures of professional life continue to pile upon them – but for now at least, it appears as though they have realised the need to communicate openly, and to value each other, as they both strive to build a bright future.

Indy Film Library often favours films willing to take a punt on something a little more left-field than what is quite a standard story here. While the film is not the most original or controversial look at relationships and careers in the Hollywood bubble, however, A Disagreement About Flies is a warm and carefully crafted work which can’t help but be thoroughly likeable – and there should always be room for films like that too. Kali Davis and Yugo Nakamura both deserve credit for a well-oiled script, which presents such well-rounded and relatable character in such a small window of time. Davis should also take plaudits for the tight-knit production she has put together, which sees that script realised efficiently – but without losing its emotional clout!

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