Sarah is being taken out by her perfect boyfriend Steve of four years, for a perfect Valentine’s Day at her favorite restaurant (where they make perfect chicken.) She expects he will pop the “perfect question” over dinner.
But when they arrive at dinner, the occasion doesn’t go as Sarah expects, and the conversation takes an unexpected turn, both for her and her audience. What ensues is a profound — but very sharp and funny — disappointment about what happens when our romantic expectations are more outsized than our present realities.
This romantic short by director Jonathan Kebe and writer-producer David Ruby leans on classically witty and (very British) dialogue and a very subtle, stealthy “twist” to explore the unexpected intersection of planned obsolescence and the limitations of a relationship.
The film begins with the polished froth of many romantic comedies, from the bright pops of color in the set design to the cheerful score and hopeful voiceover, which sets up Sarah’s expectations about what she wants to happen. The performances by actors Freya Parker and Max Olesker have the pleasant back-and-forth of a couple in love, and the restaurant setting, complete with paper hearts and cocktail lounge music, sets up a sweet atmopshere. It’s classic romantic comedy, in all its trimmings.
But what evolves next is much like a post-modern take on a Noel Coward sitting room comedy, as Sarah’s world essentially falls apart as she realizes all that she has invested in the relationship has come to naught. What unravels is essentially a delightfully light yet sharp-toothed satire about the culture of dating, relationships and romance, accomplished through excellently witty and smart writing and brought to life with performances that combine awkward emotion with perfect comic touches (especially by actor Ivan Gonzalez as a waiter who only tries to help the hapless couple, but only escalates the conflict with his attempts).
“Custom Love” is less than 10 minutes long, but it cleverly delivers an excellent riff on the oft-uttered phrase “There are no men out there.” Like the best comedies, there is a lightness of touch in all aspects of the craftsmanship on display, whether it’s the acting, camera or sound. But it still offers a sly, subversive examination of what we expect out of relationships and romance, and who we expect our mates to be: forever perfect, instead of flawed and human.
Though the film’s central conceit takes a look at the expectations put on men, it could easily be reversed (and would make an intriguing companion piece to this short.) Because no one is immune to how idealization and perfectionism can seep into our emotional expectations, and how they can make a perfectly loving, caring and devoted relationship go sour.