Marvin is isolated and living alone during the pandemic, with his only real contact with his mother and his co-workers through Zoom. His co-workers all seem to have an easygoing rapport over video, but the set-up has Marvin feeling a little anxious and left out.
In an attempt to fit in, Marvin cultivates an interest in coffee, which his co-workers all bond over. The problem is that Marvin has never had coffee before. Can he get up to speed before he’s left behind?
Directed by Andrew Carter from a script co-written and co-produced with Kahlil Maskati, this witty, sweetly delightful short comedy of manners takes the age-old anxieties about social acceptance and transposes them to a very contemporary situation. The story takes place during the pandemic, complete with masks and Zoom for everything. But while Marvin’s anxieties about social exclusion may have certain wrinkles exacerbated by a time when socializing goes digital and isolation is at an all-time high, viewers will still recognize the deep need to belong.
The smart, funny writing and performances focus on the minutiae, and how small points of tension and discomfort in modern life take on an outsized feeling. This scope gives the film the feel of a quirky character snapshot, informing the low-key, natural look and feel of visuals, which often frame Marvin as hemmed in by his house.
But the editing keeps the pacing engaging and humming along, and has great fun by juxtaposing shots of Marvin’s eccentricities in the privacy of his own home. (It also pokes fun at the ubiquity of high-end bourgeois coffee culture and its seemingly endless permutations.) These little flourishes only seem to grow quirkier as Marvin is more and more isolated, to the point where he is willing to fake a coffee obsession to be able to chitchat with his co-workers.
The focus on Marvin also highlights actor Charles Rogers’s excellent performance, which is both understatedly oddball and endearingly vulnerable. Marvin is weird (in the way that we are all weird), but he is also lonely during a particularly and peculiarly alienating and disconnected time. His efforts to fit in and connect are honest, open and highly relatable — which makes his small but significant triumphs all the more affecting and heartwarming.
At the end of “Marvin’s Never Had Coffee Before,” the titular character learns that conforming won’t connect him to others. Instead, it’s finding the courage to reach out and then be authentic that works. These are classic lessons, but they take on a poignancy during a time of mandated isolation when social bonds grew tenuous as our lives got smaller in scope. Though this is not a film “about the pandemic,” it does capture how those circumstances make us realize just what social animals we are, and how important to our well-being and happiness a sense of belonging and connection is. We will do many things to remain connected to others — even to the point of faking an interest in a beverage we barely like. But feeling like we are known to someone, even in a casual, friendly way, is worth the price of a cold brew or a latte.