A couple in New York looks back on their relationship, starting with the sweet way they met to the day they broke up. As they talk and reminisce, they see the same events from different perspectives, and together they ponder just why their romance didn’t work.
Writer-director Nora Jobling’s short romance is essentially a relationship postmortem, using the power of hindsight to figure out just why their love didn’t stay the course. Told through a voiceover that’s essentially a conversation between the pair of star-crossed lovers, the couple replay key moments of their union, first from one person’s view and then the other.
Encapsulating an entire romance from start to finish into a short film is a formidable task, but the writing makes it work by focusing on toggling between the two perspectives, turning the story into a bittersweet meditation on how it’s easy to see the other person’s POV after the fact — and how hard it is to consider it in the middle of the relationship itself. The drama doesn’t come from the question of “what happens next”; instead, it explores just how a gulf can widen between two people who are in love and yet somehow can’t meet one another’s needs.
Shot in hand-held camerawork, there is a charming looseness and lightness to the visuals, and a sense of romance as the couple meet, love, fight and make up in all sorts of New York locales. The feel of the pacing and editing seems almost effervescent and blithe sometimes, though that quicksilver quality is deceptively breezy. The city itself becomes a kind of character in the film, an always restless, intriguing energy that carry the couple along, but never quite allows them to settle and be still long enough to examine their questions and discontents until it’s too late.
Jobling and actor/comedian Jonah Ray play the couple with an easygoing charm and rapport, making it easy to see just why they come together. Ray is known for his “Comedy Central” appearances as the host of “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail” and his current gig hosting Netflix’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” But he shows a great depth and sensitivity in his acting here as a man who becomes stuck in his own fear and inexpressiveness. Jobling plays off him beautifully, showing both affection and frustration, which in turn seems to feed her sweetheart’s sense of failure and fear — and these tensions sadly come to a head during a breakup that neither seems to want.
That breakup is especially wistful and heartbreaking, since it becomes clear upon hindsight that both hoped the other would show some kind of will or effort to stop it. The denouement, too, brings an especially heightened melancholy, capturing both parties moving on, if not exactly with ease.
But what’s especially heart-rending — and makes “On Second Thought” an unusually resonant short despite its lightness of tone and execution — is how the fullness of affection between them seems come out only with the act of looking back. They may not have been able to give 50/50 while they were together, but the 20/20 vision that hindsight offers reveals just how much love and hope existed between them, and just what was lost.