Alex is a young actor coming home after a night out drinking with friends. His path crosses with a homeless man on his street, searching for a warm spot to sleep and stay safe for the night.
The two men fall into contentious conversation, which turns disastrous when Alex throws up on Derek. Feeling bad, Alex invites Derek up to his apartment for a change of clothes — and from there, a seemingly innocuous but hapless encounter escalates into a more tangled, complicated standoff of two distinctive and different perspectives.
Written and directed by Ryan Oksenberg, this short dramedy of errors begins with an impulse of generosity and selflessness, at least on the surface. But as the mistakes pile up, the storytelling deconstructs that urge, and that initial compassion is unmasked to reveal the ego and hubris underneath.
This is complicated thematic material, but it’s handled with a mix of tones and temperaments that lets us both laugh and think about the ideas explored in the storytelling. The film is shot like a gritty drama, with sometimes bleak, dark cinematography and restless, agile camerawork.
But the perceptive writing and dialogue traipse from one story beat to the next, especially as Alex’s missteps pile up and feed off one another. He does feel sorry for Derek and his status as a homeless man. But as it turns out, Alex is also interested in adding Derek’s perspective to his arsenal as an actor. But Derek doesn’t take kindly to being fodder for someone else’s “process,” and pushes back.
The tension escalates, especially as Alex adds one gesture of generosity to the next as he attempts to avoid being seen as “just another white guy” and an egotistical artist. It’s funny to watch Alex’s attempts to change this perception because each effort only makes matters worse. But it also unearths how Alex’s Good Samaritan impulses come just as much from his desire to be seen as good as much as doing good — something that Derek keys into quickly. Actors Will Madden as Alex and Marc Avery as Derek play off one another in this duel and dance of social disparity, ending in an ironic ending.
“Teardrop” is all about how an effort to do good can go awry, especially when committed without an examination of one’s motives. Its events, situation and maybe even central premise seems outlandish at first, but the story is inspired by the writer-director’s own experiences as a young international student in Chicago, where he would invite local homeless people to his dorm room for a shower and food in exchange for hearing their life experiences. The story has a personal bent, but it raises fascinating questions on how we can best help others — and perhaps even if true human goodness is possible in such a complicated world.