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Monday, January 25, 2021

Review: Two Distant Strangers

The Movie Report

Neither time loops nor serious social justice messages are especially unique concepts for film--most especially in recent years in both cases--but combining the two is far from a commonplace notion. In fact, one could convincingly argue that that fact would be for good reason, for, on the face of it, to make such an attempt appears misguided at best, and even potentially offensive at worst. Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe's Two Distant Strangers, however, is proof that not is only such an idea valid, but its use can be downright inspired, insightful, and uniquely impactful in making its provocative--and most necessary--point.

At first, the "two distant strangers" in this short film appear to be the casually acquainted Carter (Joey Bada$$) and Perri (Zaria) who wake up together in her apartment one morning. Such a notion is reinforced by the familiar rom-com-esque banter that ensues, with the pair tentatively, awkwardly making small talk, and an almost comedic driving motivation for Carter: as much as he does like Perri, he really just wants to get home to his beloved dog. But the other half of the titular pair isn't revealed until moments after Carter encounters him by chance mere steps outside Perri's building, and Free and Roe's true intent also comes into focus: a police officer by the name of Merk (Andrew Howard).

To explicitly say what then follows would venture into too much spoiler territory (especially for a piece that only runs just shy of 32 minutes), but could correctly surmise what could happen with a cop and a young Black man as the central players. But throw in the aforementioned sci-fi/fantasy trope into the mix, and the results become less predictable, both in concrete story terms and also thematic effect. To the latter issue, though, on paper it seems questionable, gimmicky, and even trivializing to the point of offense and outrage. Free's screenplay, however, plays into such justified skepticism; in fact, it counts on it to underscore the greater point about the tragic, all too painfully common headlines over the years: that such events and outcomes are, taken at their face, utterly absurd and should be downright improbable.

Unfortunately, as everyone knows, this is hardly the ideal world and society some like to think it is, and such scenarios are historically all too plausible and realistic. In the film, they very much play as such, fueled by the performances by Bada$$ and Howard, and, more importantly, their authentic manner of interaction. If at first Carter and Merk's relationship comes off as bit more expectedly black and white (in every sense), as the film progresses, it becomes a much more complicated, nuanced, and convincing dance, as attempts are made for rational reason to counter the ingrained-to-the-point-of-instinctual bias, antagonism, and suspicion.

As unconventional as its approach is, in the home stretch, one could be led to thinking that Two Distant Strangers goes the route of many well meaning, "Very Special" projects on screens large and especially small, where good intentions ultimately end up clouding realistic perspective. But in line with their film's overall subversive mindset, Free and Roe recognize and quite powerfully express a far more true to life yet empowering sentiment by the end. Anything approaching a solution to the most grievous of American society's ills is not only far from being quick and easy, but difficult to even start to figure out and identify. But such a sobering fact does not mean one does not keep on pressing on and fighting, no matter how many dark days one must endure (in Carter's case, quite literally) to finally survive to see another, more promising one.

Joey Bada$$ as Carter, Andrew Howard as Merk
in Two Distant Strangers

For more information on Two Distant Strangers, visit the official site, Instagram, and Twitter.

Instagram: @twotrey23

Twitter: @twotrey23