IRL (2020) film review

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A love story for our times that explores the joys, loneliness, triumphs and heartbreaks of modern dating and online relationships. Here is our review of director Ricardo Perez-Selsky’s romantic dramedy IRL.

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Ian (Chase Hinton) is a struggling artist who, instead of making his dream living in the art world, is providing budget graphic design jobs to small businesses across town. Spending his time working and painting and between pep talks from his friend and fellow artist Taymour (Taymour Ghazi), Ian finds time to work on his love-life as a member of an online dating website. After one unsuccessful date after another he contacts Sofia (Johanna Sol) and during a very sweet phone call they immediately ‘click’. Sofia is smart, funny, and beautiful, she is Ian’s perfect woman apart from the little problem of her living thousands of miles away while she’s tending to her sick mother. IRL is the story of a perfect couple who have some major obstacles to overcome. Our enjoyment as an audience comes from the suspenseful and entertaining way these two lovers connect and are then kept apart for 90 minutes before finally being thrown back together at the end.

The appeal of IRL is as old as romantic movies and is as new as social media itself. Chase Hinton and Johanna Sol play Ian and Sofia, two immensely likable people who meet on an online dating site. Soon they are revealing their deep secrets and personal facts to each other in daily phone calls. These phone calls are the best thing in the film; the writing from star Hinton is so real, so true to life, that we find ourselves nodding in recognition at certain conversational exchanges as well as smiling along with the gentle humour and wiping a tear away at some of the emotional moments.

What I also found clever was that Ian is not just blindly enraptured with Sofia, he thinks he loves her but he is never sure and does remain suspicious of her. There are scenes when Sofia refuses to send pictures and ignores video calls which leads Ian to face the possibility that he has been catfished. Sofia’s refusal to engage with Ian more closely leaves him feeling alone at times and seeking solace in family and ex-girlfriends just to try and feel some love back.

The cinematography by Sarah Phillips is excellent with the camera rarely being still. The use of busy close-ups, Steadicam shots, and shaky camera images help to keep the feeling of realness alive. There are times when Ian and Sofia talk in different confined spaces such as Ian’s studio, the library, and his car. These could have all been very static scenes with little room for maneuvering the camera but, thanks to the cinematography, these spaces seem a lot larger and become much more spacious.irl poster

The direction from Ricardo Perez-Selsky is very tight, what he is given by Hinton’s screenplay is the age-old conceit of two people who the audience wants to see together along with a lot of plot devices to keep them apart. Both are trapped by fate in a situation where Ian is doing all the running around and Sofia is making the phone calls. In what is a very one-sided relationship, Selsky’s choice of shots and close-ups alongside Taylor Braasch’s edits and the voice performance of Johanna Sol help to keep the warmth of the characters always on show.

Also, I must mention Eric Roberts who has a small but pivotal role as Ian’s father. I have reviewed a number of independent short films in which Roberts has appeared in small supporting roles. He is always great in them and gives the roles his all, his support for the independent film industry is invaluable. Roberts deserves as much praise as we can give him as well as thanks from all those who work in film for his willingness and enthusiasm for being a part of the creative process for up and coming filmmakers. His presence manages to lift every project he is involved in and IRL is no exception. It’s also great to see Haskell V. Anderson III in a supporting role. Action film fans remember him from his great turn as Winston Taylor in the Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts extravaganza Kickboxer.

IRL is a celebration of infatuation but the movie is really about falling in love. There is a slow pace on display here that many movies lack the courage to take, the characters may rush into giving out personal details but Hinton’s writing and the direction of Perez do not rush into revelations. There is patience at work here that might not be to everyone’s taste but does reflect how people live in the real world. The denouement as well may not be what people are looking for or willing to accept but it does feel right and at the very least it will leave you talking about it long after the end credits have rolled. IRL is a very brave endeavor that becomes a pretty satisfying film.

4 / 5 stars     

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