Clarence and Ernestine live across the street from one another in a busy city, where their apartments face one another. They are both soulmates who send one another sweet missives and gifts, and they look at one another longingly across the distance. But they have never met because they are both painfully shy.
But as the pair of would-be lovers pine for one another, fate decides to take matters into its own hands, pulling Clarence and Ernestine together — and pulling viewers into a lovely magical fantasia at the same time.
Directed by John Alan Thompson from a script co-written with Amy Thompson, this enchanting short fantasy romance combines stop-motion animation, charming miniature work and a whimsical narrative to craft a sweetly surreal love story that warms the heart and dazzles the eyes.
The film has a classic European feel in its textured, expressionistic visuals, with the various filmmaking techniques complementing one another to create a unique fairy tale-like world. The mixture of stop-motion animation, miniatures and live-action offer a wealth of beautifully crafted intricate detail and a romantic atmosphere, from the lovely cityscape where Clarence and Ernestine live to the charming birds and flowers that fill their homes. It all comes together beautifully to create a cohesive, captivating magical world — quite an accomplishment in and of itself — but the visual panache never gets in the way of the old-fashioned romance at its core.
There is also moody, saturated darkness to the lighting and cinematography that is reminiscent of the classic fantastical films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose ‘Amelie’ has a similar look-and-feel. This slight darkness presages the surreal turn that the story takes, as it hops, skips and cartwheels through each beat of the story. Two very important parts of the would-be sweethearts take it upon themselves to express the feelings and yearnings that are suppressed due to the potential couple’s shyness. The “twist” is a bit of an unexpected, playful turn, but it works well as part of the fairy tale aesthetic of the short.
The writing isn’t heavy on dialogue, but much of the narrative is guided by a warmly engaging voiceover by Hollywood screen veteran Robert Wagner. And the two lead performers — Pat Healy as Clarence and Kali Rocha as Ernestine — are as engaging and expressive as Hollywood silent-film stars, in a nostalgic style of storytelling that emphasizes almost postcard-like tableaux over unspooling continuous action. But these little chapters come together into a final sequence that has the compelling, suspenseful movement and dynamism of an action film — and culminates in a sweeping finale that is as funny, beguiling and heartwarming as any old-fashioned silver screen romance.
Artfully crafted, visually distinctive and quirky in both humor and sensibility, “Lend a Hand for Love” has charm galore, but its eccentricities in storytelling and image keep it from becoming too saccharine. Its edgier flourishes are perhaps key to making the romance feel genuine and sweet because, in truth, many of us are too shy or beset by struggles of all sorts to act on the deepest yearnings of our heart. The storytelling handles this emotional truth with lightness and creativity, but much of the film’s artistry is continually connected to this truth. The result is a cinematic valentine with humor, playfulness and genuine sweetness, but like the best of fairy tales, it also has a visionary flourish in bringing the harder parts of human nature to life and questioning what parts of ourselves we aren’t expressing.