A reconciliation brunch goes awry when someone brings an unexpected guest in director and actor Vivian Kerr’s quirky comedy Julian.
Julian opens with a dramatic and thumping piece of music as our lead character Brynn Kensington (played by director Vivian Kerr) is getting ready to go out. She plays with her hair, fastens her dress, touches up her lipstick, and breathes deeply as she closes her eyes. Why is she readying herself? By the sounds we are hearing, it feels like she is attending judgment day. Glancing at the date, she gets up and, as the beat of the music hits a crescendo, Brynn slips and almost falls into the kitchen; relieving the tension and giving us our first laugh of the few that we will experience during this cute 7-minute surrealist comedy.
The slip happens within the first 25 seconds and is a clever beat to the story; it’s a sort of genre bait and switch – we are expecting one type of film, but the slip tells us we are getting another. There is nothing ominous or foreboding going on in Julian, a sister is simply getting ready to meet her sibling, but it is the kind of quirky surreal comedy that US filmmakers seem to revel in. They take an ordinary situation, throw in some surreal and quirky elements, and then just tell the cast to act as if nothing is happening. Much like the Zucker brothers did with Airplane and The Naked Gun, Kerr manages to find a small cast of three who are skillful comedic actors. Along with herself, Joel Kelley Dauten as her husband Max, and Stephanie Drake as her estranged and odd sister Marlow, they all provide us with some great deadpan reactions and masterful use of silent takes and pauses.
Despite its small stature and stakes, visually, Julian is quite stunning to look at, and while there isn’t a great deal of variety in the short film location-wise – it’s set in the kitchen, lounge, and patio of a small house – the imagery remains constantly fresh and crisp. Director of photography Markus Mentzer’s decision to film the majority of scenes as mid-shots and medium close-ups is a good one, as this is the perfect framing to enhance the subtle performance of the actors. The editing too is very slick with Marian Jimenez and Eileen de Klerk’s work so tight that the cuts become almost unnoticeable between shots, allowing the film to flow.
The surrealism in this film comes more in form than in the plot. Although there are a few improbabilities and invented set pieces, the plot, other than the obvious, is straightforward and realistic. Kerr shows strength in her direction by not allowing the quirkiness of the event that surrounds the characters to overpower them. She is also good at making the characters fluid and quite relatable in some situations. There is only the odd moment where they behave irrationally or do something most regular people would find questionable, but that makes the humour more palpable.
Julian is a hugely enjoyable short with a constant stream of sight gags that keep the laughter ticking along and a smile etched on your face. Outside of the film, I think it is also worth noting that Vivian Kerr produced, directed, and has the lead role in the film, yet gives herself second billing. It may be a small thing, but it says a lot about Kerr as a person that she did that, and Julian says a lot about her ability to direct – she is very good and I’m excited to see what she produces next.