Penny is a teacher and leader for a dance group for adults with special needs, passionate and ready to defend the importance of her work when needed. At home, too, she’s utterly devoted to her son Jamie, who also has special needs.
Yet struggling in both her external world and her private life has begun to wear on Penny. When she comes home after one tough day at work and discovers her husband Craig has forgotten to help with some housework, she finds herself at the end of her tether — yet still has to manage to unearth infinite reservoirs for Jamie.
Writer-director Joseph Johnson’s deeply affecting dramatic short is a deeply intimate, compassionate evocation of a world many aren’t privy to, especially in such an emotionally intimate way. Following the central role of the caregiver, the sensitive, empathetic storytelling goes deep, exploring what it means to be a parent and a person living with and around disability, and creating a memorable family portrait with unparalleled emotional range.
The drama here is found in the everyday difficulties of Penny as they unfold the course of an ordinary day. She starts the film in a state of crisis — she is losing the venue where her dance group performs — and she carries that into her home, where she also discovers that she must carry a heavier load. The structure of the narrative from public to private isn’t meant to show the different faces of Penny, but rather how all sectors of her life pull at her, with little room for relief and respite.
The portrayal of the mother-son relationship is the crux of the film, and it is deeply affecting, full of love and devotion but honest about the toll it can take on a person already stretched to their limit. Adjoa Andoh as Penny is absolutely compelling with every moment on screen, and every word, gesture and look conveys both her fierce unconditional love, her conviction and also her frustration. She is a giver by profession and at home, but it is only deeply human that her tank begins to empty.
Actor Edward Bluemel — now appearing on the smash TV series Killing Eve — offers a sensitive portrayal of Jamie, embodying the needs, longings and responses of a young man who can feel and understand so much despite his so-called limitations. The rapport between Andoh and Bluemel as mother and son is both heartwarming in its tenderness, and heartwrenching in its struggles.
The arc of “House Finch” is less about answering a narrative question but rather the internal letting-go that Penny must do to balance all the pieces in her life, the most important of which is Jamie. Around this subtle emotional shift, though, the film weaves a profound portrait of parental love in even the most challenging of situations. We won’t say this love been made richer or more resonant because of that struggle — most parents know that the love for their children goes deeper than anything — but its struggles and joys may exist in sharper relief, making for a kaleidoscopic, even radiant range of emotion and a poignancy that lingers well after the story ends.