Reviews Short Narrative

Second Chances (2020) – 2 stars

Director: Jessica Chojinacki

Writer: Jessica Chojinacki

Cast: Lauren Laviere, Aidan Bahre, Corrine Reed

Running time: 12mins

Something we don’t often talk about here is the naming of characters in fiction. Perhaps our suspension of disbelief is such that discussing what effect Clarice Starling’s name might be designed to have seems as redundant as discussing the impact our own name has had on our life. We shouldn’t confuse the two though; talking about what a fictional character’s name does isn’t some bunkum debate about nominative determinism.

It’s often a label chosen for its memorability, or to allude metaphorically to the character’s attitudes and status. In the case of Agent Starling, she begins The Silence of the Lambs as a stumbling, timid fledgling; a small bird, finding her way in the world – something Hannibal Lecter makes overt during one particularly derisive exchange.

The problem is, like anything else in the realm of fiction, if you should deploy such a sleight of hand without due care, your name will come across as a ham-fisted substitute for actual character development – and an absurd one at that. Memphis Raines, Cole Trickle, Korben Dallas, or an endless roster of names from Sylvester Stallone movies spring to mind, try-hard ‘alpha-male’ names plastered onto poorly developed roles. Desperate to make their allotted character sound like he is dripping in testosterone and gasoline, they come across as pathetic in their overcompensation.

Hawk Frey is a name that, were it on a bigger stage, would definitely be joining that rogue’s gallery. The love interest in Jessica Chojinacki’s student short doesn’t have many layers of intrigue to speak of, something making it difficult to work out just why protagonist Susan George (Lauren Laviere) is so interested in him. Slapping a name on him that would not sound out of place in The Expendables does little to remedy this – and we are left as bemused as actor Aidan Bahre appears to be about Susan’s fascination in him.

The situation is not helped by Bahre’s mumbled delivery of his name. As cringeworthy as ‘Hawk Frey’ might be, for one brief second, I genuinely thought this cool guy our lead is crushing on was named ‘Hogfree’ – and while a quick check of the submitted credits stopped me bursting into laughter for long, a regular audience won’t have that luxury!

It might seem unfair of me to spend this long picking on a student film for what seems to be a minute detail – but it is indicative of a wider issue with the film. It is far too dependent on clichés to paper over the cracks in some rather slapdash storytelling. The opening scenes are a meandering hodgepodge of scenes which don’t belong together, ‘comedic’ moments of eye-rolling misfortune occur immediately after a grounded and severe conversation about divorce, and abandonment – a moment which isn’t given remotely enough time to resonate with us before we launch into the uplifting ‘American high-school’ routine; complete with insufferable upbeat guitar backing.

The unfolding story sees Susan’s locker break, a water-fountain she is using declared out-of-order, and an exam result come back to her with a C- grade. After Mom (Corrine Reed) had spent the morning arguing with her about her husband running out on them. I guess it’s just one of those days, huh?

When the school’s maintenance lady takes pity on Susan, having seen her bag of potato-chips burst, she gives her a magic amulet – as one does – enabling Susan to turn back time in small bursts. Susan uses this new power to re-do a succession of awkward social encounters; ranging from helping her sister do homework, to visiting Hawk’s house. Hawk reveals his father has been dead for some time as the pair aimlessly watch TV – making it difficult to see exactly what buttons Susan pushed to break down that barrier. Perhaps there were multiple re-dos we were not privy to?

Whatever the cause, the moment triggers a realisation in Susan that she should not be taking her mother for granted. While she is still alive, she should try and mend the broken relationship they have. The film’s best scene revolves around the frank, emotionally charged conversation between the pair – and both Reed and Laviere do an excellent job conveying the feelings behind the situation – but again it ends far too abruptly.

As soon as both parties air their grievances, instead of seeing how their relationship changes, we are ghosted away to the house of the janitor. She is pouring tea for Susan. Apparently, she has learned something. Susan hurriedly passes the amulet back to her mentor – she doesn’t think she’ll need it anymore. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem like she – or we – ever needed it in the first place.

The magical MacGuffin storyline is part of a vicious cycle: the meaningful story here about a mother and daughter, warring in their respective grief, finally reconciling, is underdeveloped – so the amulet is milked for a series of clunky and unnecessary clichés, to fill in the gaps and baby into understanding what Susan is learning, and how we should feel about that. But this ineffective Band-Aid is only necessary in the first place because it seems to have diverted time and energy away from what could have been a simple yet impactful coming-of-age tale.

In a short film, particularly, the best artists will prioritise their most impactful element, and centre the film on that. In this case, it is the arc between Susan and Mom. Unfortunately, like trying to convince us someone is interesting by naming him Hawk Free, there are no short-cuts to telling a story like this effectively – and in future projects, writer-director Chojinacki would do well to take a stripped-back approach to her narratives.  

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