This Is Not a Film (2003)

notafilmNadia: The lines are stupid!
Michael Connor: No – they happened!
Nadia: Which makes them stupid twice.

“This is not a Film” is something completely different which I love. I’m always looking for movies different from the usual Hollywood dung piles of sequels, high budget actioners, and tired cliché romantic comedies, so “This is not a Film” was obviously something different and original, and I couldn’t have asked for a better entertaining time. This is obviously an odd movie with a weird premise that’s scattered all over the place. Michael (Michael Leydon Campbell) is a man whose girlfriend Grace left him, so, in an attempt to discover where she now lives, he is making a documentary about his search for her, and tries to plead his case to her hoping someone she knows will see it and tell her relying on the rule of Six degrees of separation. So, he asks his friend Nadia (Nadia Dajani), an actress for help in making the documentary and staging some sequences that dictate where his relationship went wrong.

“This is not a Film” is a film within a documentary within a film that only gets better as the story progresses. Done with deadpan realism and excellent dialogue this will definitely look as if it was ripped from real life, but don’t be fooled, this really is just a film, thank goodness. So, Nadia played by the beautiful Nadia Dajani is the utterly adorable and viciously honest friend of Michael, perhaps his only friend now that I think about it, whom never really looks as if she likes to be around him but nonetheless she’s his friend. Upon first approaching her with a film crew in an impromptu confrontation she begins cursing him out and yelling at him and walking away from him as he follows her leading us to believe they’re enemies, but it’s a frank and vicious introduction into her character who only gets better as the film goes on.

An aspiring actress herself in down town New York, she is talked into working in the film alongside Michael who is desperate to reach Grace. So, in an attempt to convey how the relationship started, where it blossomed and how it inevitably fell apart, Nadia begins playing two characters, the first one being Grace, Michael’s love interest who acts out their first date, their first kiss, and their arguments with one another, and the other being Patty, Michael’s lover whom he cheated on Grace with. If you think you know where the story is headed, you’re wrong, because this doesn’t become the conventional dramedy, and never takes a safe move with the plot. Amidst the drama there are also really funny lines delivered by the two leads who nonetheless deliver them with deadpan reactions followed by many awkward silences.

As the drama unfolds we come to a startling realization with the character of Michael. Our first impression of him is that he seems like a sad desperate man at the start of the film, and as we watch he and Nadia depict the events leading up to his break up with Grace, we watch and we grow to learn more about him. We slowly see Michael’s true colors in plain view and must decide if we want to continue rooting for him. It’s a really risky but nonetheless original and excellent move on writer and director Michael A. Nickles’ part to turn the audience against the main character, the hero, and let us into his real flaws making us dislike him more and more as the film continues. I was stunned at the great acting during this and at the great chemistry between Nadia Dajani and Michael Leydon Campbell which is often very fluid and smooth amidst the awkward silences, numerous arguments, and dialogue that is always realistic to the point where they interrupt one another constantly.

I was sure this film would take a predictable turn with its story by having either the Nadia character fall for Michael, or by having Grace meet Michael in the end, which I realized was trauma resulting from recycled Hollywood romances I’d seen over and over, but this is as realistic as can be. There’s a character named “The Puzzler”, a man who sits in a coffee shop doing crosswords all day who imparts knowledge and wisdom to Michael about his life and romance as a sort of symbolic guiding spirit who gives him a lot of things to think about, not to mention there’s New York City which becomes a character in it’s own right. The ending is left wide open like reality, did he win Grace back? Did he end up alone? Did Nadia stay Michael’s friend?

We’re never told, and to that I say thank you to Nickles, because life is never that simple, sometimes it’s just incomplete and there’s rarely ever a resolution. Most people won’t find the sequences where Nadia imitates Michael’s mistress Patty too amusing, and many scenes border on corny, especially with their little exchanges, and people may find it especially corny when Nadia brings on the Irish accent which isn’t all that good to begin with. Aside from that, the film takes itself so humorously that it’s almost self satire which isn’t necessary seeing as how this is already a comedy and a film within a film that it doesn’t need to be a satire of itself as well. A somewhat flawed but ultimately original film and very funny mock documentary. This is very entertaining and a one of a kind comedy with great performances, excellent dialogue, and a realistic ending that doesn’t follow the conventions of usual romance comedies.