Director: Kayla Wang
Writer: Kayla Wang
Cast: Laura Stannard, Marie V. Sharp, Brandon Giddens, Cara Halseth
Running time: 15mins
The English poet Shelley likened the mind to a fading coal. The realisation that we do not even own our memories comes as a shock to all of us at some point in our lives… I once knew the name of the River of Forgetfulness, but now I have forgotten it. The debilitating loss of memory that some of us will experience as we age, however one wants to call it, dementia or titled as an homage to Alois Alzheimer, will be an increasingly important issue for all of us, if present demographic trends continue and life expectancy continues to rise across the world.
Memory loss in one particular older person and how it affects those nearest them is the subject of One More Last Kiss, a first attempt at film by Kayla Wang, a young Canadian director.
The movie was shot in western Canada mainly in autumn sunshine. We meet Luna (played by Laura Stannard) who we learn has been diagnosed as suffering from dementia. Laura lives with her daughter Kelly (played by Cara Halseth) and a granddaughter. We discover that Kelly has separated from the father of their child and that Luna is pressurising Kelly to get back in the relationship with the father.
Wang provides a series of flashbacks to give the audience Luna’s backstory. A visit to the doctor when she is told about her diagnosis. A set of sequences taking us back to Luna’s youth. (Here the younger Luna is played by Marie V. Sharp) Luna meeting Jack (played by Brandon Giddens), the love of her life and father of her children – presumably these include Kelly. The tragic demise of Jack. Wang finally takes us back to the present where Luna is, I think the right word is, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jack’s death at his tombstone or as Luna puts it – 50 years of marriage. The director wraps up proceedings with a healing turn and resolution.
Wang goes for a fairy tale aesthetic. She is aided in this by some luscious cinematography from Jesse Young and a heart on the sleeve romantic music score from Dave Chick, an experienced pro film composer. Chick serves up to order an assemblage of plangent piano chords, swooning strings with deep comforting cello riffs. The star of the show is the well-designed garden full of varieties of maple trees, all in deep shades of autumnal red – a taste of suburban paradise. At the start, a maple leaf blows into Luna’s window and we are shown Luna’s beatific smile in reaction – in the final scene the child watches, with a sense of wonder, a companion leaf as it miraculously floats up to the heavens.
Wang has Stannard play Luna as the hippie grandmother from hell. Luna has an air of being permanently stoned on MMDMA. The woman’s passion is dance and a great deal of the movie features Luna dancing in the garden or around her husband’s gravestone. Luna’s conversation is made up entirely of faux profound greeting card aphorisms – anyone for don’t be afraid to be the real you? Indeed, the dialogue throughout One More Last Kiss feels as though it had been cut and pasted from some New Age catechism. There is a useful French term to describe cloyingly sentimental religious art: bondieuserie. Maybe it would be helpful to coin a new one for our times: bonnouvelâgeserie.
The issue with the film’s portrayal of Luna is that there is facet of cognitive degeneration which can be liberating and may involve a rediscovery of the ludic qualities of childhood. OK – this fits in with the aesthetic that the filmmakers are striving hard to create. But it is only a very small part of the deal – the rest is horror. At no point, does Wang attempt to portray something like the terror of the realisation that you have forgotten where you are and how you got there.
As the vapidity count mounts and Chick’s music swells, One More Last Kiss certainly induces a feeling of claustrophobia in the viewer – at one point I felt I was drowning in syrup. I began to suspect that Wang was subtly teasing us and showing us how awful it would be to have to live with someone like Luna. My suspicion grew watching the scene where Kelly is driven to confront Luna. Halseth, by the way, puts in a strong, and under the circumstances, even heroic performance.
Kelly voices anger that her mother just floats about dancing and does not appreciate Kelly’s efforts as a hard-working single parent to keep the household afloat. My sense was that at last we would be shown some semblance of the realities of a life lived with dementia. However, the turn and resolution proved my suspicions unfounded. Wang provides us with a resolution that left your reviewer aghast. Wang portrays Luna as triumphant and affirms Luna’s cardboard cut-out cliched worldview as a model for us of how to live a meaningful life.
A great deal goes wrong in the flashback sequences. The scene with the diagnostic chart at the doctors could have come from an episode of the Simpsons. The reconstruction of events supposedly set in the 60s is hapless. Would a well-fed, Caucasian male in 1960s Canada, an era of full employment, really have been earning their living as a shoeshine boy? Would a customer wearing denim jeans have paid good money to have had their cheap, non-Goodyear welted shoes shined?
The hospital scene where Jack is on his deathbed and being comforted by Luna is simply an embarrassment – I really am surprised it made the cut. Giddens, as Jack, aside from a made-up wound on his forehead is the very picture of robust good health – this is not someone about to be dragged down into the underworld. The mawkishness of the dialogue in the scene is quite something – although, it is unfortunately surpassed by Luna’s eulogy to Jack at his tombstone later in the movie.
The chronology is awry. The 1960s seem more like 1930s. Jack’s tombstone, as shown in present time in the narrative, reads that he died in 1966. Kelly is portrayed as being no older than her mid-thirties and the family use contemporary models of mobile phone – this makes Kelly’s existence as the child of Luna and Jack’s union somewhat problematic.
On a more positive note, a redeeming feature of the flashbacks is an engaging performance from Marie V. Sharp, as the young Luna, who brings a helping of panache and joie de vivre to proceedings. Meanwhile, another positive to end on is that the director has shown the ability to assemble a crew and shoot a movie that looks good – this is hard work and goes some way to establishing their credibility as a filmmaker. They have demonstrated, with regards to Kelly and the Young Luna, that they can coax strong performances from their actors and sketch out believable characters.
I realise One More Last Kiss is Wang’s first movie and that a generally negative review can be dispiriting. The aim here is not to berate or belittle – at IFL, we try to offer advice to help filmmakers develop. In this case, I would advise that in future, she takes more care over details – the best directors obsess over getting the details right. Especially, when one is delving back in time, anachronisms, and errors as to the materiality of a period can destroy any hope of the audience making the leap of faith a filmmaker requires them to take.
Finally, when building a narrative through dialogue and the voiced inner-thought, it is a good strategy for filmmakers to think about how their characters would express themselves in reality rather than impose on them an idealised world view based on some abstract theory of how a Good Person should behave. In cinema, the latter course invariably fails.