Sean is a Black male burn survivor on his first date since his accident. He’s struggled with emotional barriers and insecurities with his physical image since being badly scarred, and losing both of his arms in a fire. Yet he’s put himself out there after many years of recovering, in hopes of making a romantic connection.
His date with Caleb seems promising, and the pair head back to Sean’s place. But just when things seem to be progressing, Sean’s insecurities flare up and take the evening in an unexpected direction.
Director Sherren Lee and writer Jesse LaVercombe have crafted a warmly empathetic romantic drama about learning to open up to another person in a vulnerable situation and offering compassion to someone just when they need it the most.
The narrative approach and scale is a classic two-hander in many ways, featuring two people and their strong emotions in a confined setting. Crafted with a solid, steady sense of intimacy, it’s heavy on excellent dialogue like many two-handers, especially as its two characters negotiate a tricky, delicate situation.
What makes the film highly unique, though, is the main character and actor, and an unusual level of specificity and honesty about his initially defining traits. Actor Prince Amponsah was caught in an apartment fire in 2012, and took years to recover after burns covered over half his body. Amponsah returned to acting four years later, and LaVercombe’s script — which is loosely based on the writer’s first encounter with Amponsah — is a lovely tribute to the process of recovery and how difficult it was to return to some semblance of a full life after such a life-altering accident.
But while the onscreen chemistry between Amponsah and LaVercombe is very connected and open and both actors offer authentic, affecting performances, the film’s power isn’t in replicating a true-life story in a fictional setting. Instead, with careful, compassionate emotional honesty and understatement, the film extracts a sense of universality from a highly specific character, and when Sean experiences intense vulnerability just as he’s on the verge of an intimacy he both fears and desires, the dynamic is highly relatable, both in how it plays out and the tenderhearted way it’s resolved.
“The Things You Think I’m Thinking” offers a full emotional experience about a character we don’t often see, but its resonance is in its story and core emotions. At its heart, the narrative is about how we often project the shame and uncertainty we feel about ourselves out into the world, letting these color and shape our interactions and experience, especially in situations like first dates where we are afraid of being judged despite all our best efforts.
Yet sometimes, though, we meet those who are able to be honest — sometimes painfully so — and patient in the face of those defenses. In those moments of openness and authenticity, we can grow in empathy and self-awareness — and offer one another the ordinary yet wonderful miracle of mutual understanding.