Mia and Dan are neighbors who have never met. But they’re still quite acquainted with one another since the thin floor that separates them doesn’t quite muffle the sounds in each of their apartments. And in this world, sounds can be captured and “trapped” in containers, forming potent portals into past memories and emotions.
But they finally meet when Dan approaches Mia with a suggestion: he wants to trade some sounds of his life in exchange for a very specific — and highly personal — one of hers. As they “barter” and bargain, they revisit the memories that have defined their romantic histories — and perhaps reckon with the unresolved feelings they provoke.
Co-directors Seth and Ben Epstein’s gently surreal dramedy — co-written by Seth Epstein and Ryan Dowler, who also wrote the play that the film is adapted from — begins in a quietly quotidian way, on a morning that seems any other. But as these neighbors talk, the central conceit of the film unfurls with both a matter-of-factness and an elegant yet evocative simplicity, as their characters talk over a possible trade of sounds, which they’ve captured in humble Tupperware containers.
The foundation of the film is the writing, which parlays the almost sci-fi idea of captured sounds into a thoughtful, funny meditation on memory, longing, loss and letting go. Each sound that Mia and Dan talk over is highly specific in its ordinariness, harvested from the seemingly incidental moments and experiences of life.
But as Mia and Dan share the meaning behind these sounds, in beautifully rich dialogue, the storytelling elevates the humble and marginal into something extraordinary and rich with feeling and memory. The visuals, too, balance the tension between the everyday with the heightened, rendering Mia and Dan’s world with light and color that’s naturalistic, luminous and melancholy all at once — qualities that feel very much like the story itself.
This richness of memory is something that Mia and Dan grapple with, as rifling through their sound containers spark reveries and reflection. Dan in particular reveals a struggle to let go of past memories, and he hopes one of Mia’s sounds can help him get through this particular personal abyss. Actor Marco Joseph traverses his character’s arc with an engaging charm masking a profound sadness, and actor Lee Eddy’s sharp, observant pragmatism — and the tough-minded compassion she shows Dan — opens up new space within them both, allowing two seemingly different characters to connect in a deeply human, empathetic way.
“Something Like Loneliness” has the imaginative playfulness reminiscent of filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, where the inventive narrative devices offer the opportunity to explore the unique archaeology of memory, emotion and selfhood. At heart, the question of how much we hold onto the past — and how much it does or does not shape us — is unique to humans. “Something Like Loneliness” attempts to limn this delicate, lovely balance, with storytelling that has both a gossamer-light whimsy and an undertow of wistfulness.