An actress shooting a commercial gets devastating news via text, only to discover it’s a mistake a few minutes later. A football team psychs themselves up for a brutal game with a particularly aggressive style of praying. A man tries to write a very detailed, personal online review about scissors, only to have it disappear.
Brooklyn-based writer-director Abigail Horton has crafted a short comedy that mines the epic absurdity buried in life’s smallest moments. She takes the “throwaway” pockets of time — getting pumped up before a game, filling out an online form — and watches how human idiosyncrasies bubble up when butting up against the strange systems, rituals and processes put place in modern life.
The narrative is structured as a series of vignettes linked only in the most casual way. None of the “activities” are joined together through traditional storytelling concerns like character or plot, but rather through throwaway details that link from one slice of life to the next. And the timing of the rhythm is less based on hitting punchlines and more on watching a situation play out to its fullest, most awkward extent.
Each vignette takes a situation that looks completely normal on paper, but when it comes to life in front of Horton’s camera, they take on a strangely hypnotic, even anthropological quality, giving us a remove to observe what a strange species human beings truly are.
What also elevates “A Few Activities” is a painterly sense of image, an approach that finds the oddly poignant details in a seemingly mundane, ordinary surface world. This approach is announced in the film’s first image, which allows a plastic bag stranded in a brunch to flutter gently in the wind.
It’s normal and even would be boring in a passing glance, but the time the camera takes to watch it allows for it to become a strange object of everyday contemplation. Then, as a human struggles to remove it, it becomes a totem for the minor frustrations and stymied attempts that unravel in the rest of the film.
“A Few Activities” is a uniquely calibrated film that doesn’t fit in traditional subgenres of comedy. But it does possess a dry, whimsical sense of humor and sage-like discernment about modern absurdity.
Some of the vignettes won’t “make sense,” but they work like Zen koans that invite viewers to watch and marvel at humans like the strange species we are — a species that gets heartbreaking news over an electronic media, writes songs about bank advertisements and crafts reviews about herb-cutting scissors, only to hit the wrong button after because we weren’t wearing our reading glasses.
In other words: people are weird. But there’s a strange delight in that weirdness.