Alex is leaving a party one night and is just about to take the elevator down when a man calls out for her to hold it. That man, though, is her ex Eli, who was also at the party. To make matters worse, the elevator gets stuck — almost everyone’s worst romance-related nightmare.
But Alex decides to take the chance encounter — and the forced close quarters — to get some closure on her and Eli’s former relationship, leading to an unexpected turn for both of them.
Writer-director Neal Owusu, along with co-writer Marcel Stewart and producer Raj Dillion, has crafted an engaging slice-of-life drama about the way relationships can both challenge and compel us to grow, even when they aren’t conventionally “successful.” There’s also great pleasure in watching a diverse crew and cast of people of color bring to life a story that is beautifully universal, touching upon the hopes, fears and regrets we all bring in our attempts to find and create love.
The narrative and physical scale of the film is intentionally circumscribed, limited to two characters and essentially one very tight location. As a director, though, Owusu is able to carve out a sense of dynamism despite the close quarters, using a variety of camera angles and the sound design to inject a sense of place, interest and progression.
The minimal set-up, however, allows for the writing and performances to come to the fore, with an special emphasis on the dialogue between Alex and Eli. Actors Evangelia Kambites and Ronnie Rowe Jr. play the former lovers with the right mix of familiarity and thorniness, with a chemistry and responsiveness that illuminates why they would be attracted to one another, but also why they didn’t work out. They play each moment with great specificity, whether it’s defensive, attacking, conciliatory or heartbreakingly open, and turn their conversation into an engaging, ultimately moving turning point for one another.
What plays out between them is both a skilled presentation of two exes trying to seem “fine,” but are still nursing hurts, resentments and unanswered questions between one another. They at first try to approach one another with distant friendliness, but when Alex decides to get real and hash out their unfinished business, they air out their grievances with honesty and ultimately vulnerability.
But that vulnerability gives them space to acknowledge how they contributed to one another’s growth as a person, and then find some degree of rapprochement with each other. By the time the film ends, they’ve turned a corner with one another. And while it may not be a typical romance film’s happy ending, it’s the perfect one for Alex and Eli.
“Chance Encounter” may strike some as a modest film, but with its blend of perceptive writing and skilled performance, it has a rich emotional intelligence that belies its small scale. Many will find the tension and dynamic between two exes very relatable, but even if they don’t, viewers should also appreciate the story’s attempt to learn from painful experiences and parlay that suffering into meaning. Much is impermanent about life — and especially in relationships — but by approaching experiences with a lens of gratitude and growth, we can cultivate some hard-won wisdom to take into our next relationships or stages.