Charlie is trying to book a companion for the night when his regular girl isn’t available. Instead, he decides to meet with a new person — a woman named Lily who is said to be a “good listener.”
But when Lily enters Charlie’s hotel room, they’re both in for a surprise: they know each other already, under Lily’s real name. Ten years ago, Charlie abandoned Lily, leaving her broken and alone in life. And now they must reckon with the consequences of those events.
Writer-director Audrey Gagneux’s short drama takes the classic two-hander format — essentially two characters having a conversation together — and layers a psychosexual element over it. But the drama and action are never titillating or prurient. Instead, it explores the ideas of responsibility to one another and reckoning with the effect our decisions have on one another.
Being a two-hander, the emphasis falls on writing and performance in the storytelling, especially its dialogue. It’s not particularly wordy writing at first, however: instead, it’s quite pared down and practices a quiet economy as it parses out key details, relying instead on the intelligence of viewers to piece together the mystery of just what Lily and Charlie mean to one another.
But as the two characters unravel the messy knot of history between them, the mysteries of their past and their relationship between them unfold for the viewers. The excellent script explores family, obligation and the impact of adult romantic relationships on the children that can get caught in the crossfire told from the point-of-view of those who have to live with the impact of choices they have had no control over.
Actors Barry Ward and Tanya Reynolds bring their characters to life with subtlety and honesty, balancing the narrative’s need for a slow, gradual reveal with their needs and wants. The result is a slow sleight of hand that works on the level of character, not plot or other story mechanics. The gift of the storytelling is that as viewers unravel what happened between the pair, Lily and Charlie fully acknowledge this as well — and the acknowledgment opens up emotional terrain for further growth.
“Lily and Charlie” ends just before a “big reveal” or a cathartic atonement, but while some viewers may crave more, it’s still an honest ending, for the arc of the film isn’t about repair or reconciliation, but the recognition of the damage that exists between two people. This first step is seemingly small but crucial, allowing for two people to face one another honestly and vulnerably — and to accept the power and responsibility of their interconnection, however long ago that it happened.