Vivian lives in isolation in her high-rise apartment, never leaving it in fear of the outside world, which has become increasingly restricted, thanks to an unstable socioeconomic climate and random violence. But her sister is increasingly worried about Vivian’s state of mind, urging her to connect to someone, even virtually.
After nearly choking one night, with no one around to help her, Vivian decides to try a dating app for agoraphobes just like her, and gets matched with an intriguing woman named Katrina. But the perils of the outside world have nothing on Vivian’s inner hang-ups, which may short-circuit her journey towards human connection.
Written by Addison Heimann and directed by Hannah Welever, this short romance is a nimble, singularly deft blend of two disparate tones. One is a strand of coolly dystopian melancholia, the other an endearing portrait of the foibles of modern dating, and both are woven together to create an unusual emotional resonance.
The sci-fi bona fides of the storytelling are quickly and economically established, starting with the precise, almost angular visuals. Shots of the city communicate both scale and alienation, along with the muted, almost washed-out colors. This is a world where people are often confined at home, compartmentalized into private spaces that do not touch or open up to others. Vivian rattles about her apartment, cluttering it up with takeout containers, and visually she’s often shot with skewed framings that emphasize her aloneness and isolation.
The only way to connect in this world is the illusion of being in one another’s spaces, and communication involves projecting life-like holograms into private spaces, which people swipe in and out of. This special effect establishes the futuristic angle of the story, but it also riffs upon the way we already use technology.
One thing that hasn’t changed — and that the smart, witty script has fun with — is the unique blend of peacock-like preening and insecurity that makes up online and app-based dating. Vivian’s exploration of her romantic possibilities offers the film many humorous moments, adding a lighthearted juxtaposition to the more pensive portrayal of isolation and agoraphobia.
Dotting the script are snippets of information that hint at larger world calamities that explain the outside world. Grappling with this larger reality is something that Vivian has avoided, with almost the same strenuousness as she avoids Katrina’s overtures.
This dance is given great life by actors Emily Marso and Mary Williamson, who can tread both the seriousness of their mental isolation as well as the comical vagaries of dating virtually. But when Vivian and Katrina finally connect over their shared reality and trauma, with genuine sincerity and vulnerability, it gives Vivian the emotional opening to let someone into her cloistered existence.
“Swipe Up, Vivian” has a lightness of touch in its portrayal of the sometimes ludicrous dances of courtship and connection. But it also never downplays the gravity of isolation, alienation and fear of an unstable, dangerous world. And in the past year of worldwide pandemic, the narrative also possesses perhaps an unusual resonance, as most of us have had to stay at home, with technology as our primary ways of connection. So it’s with particular poignancy, perhaps, that Vivian’s genuine smile at the end feels especially well-earned, giving us a flicker of hope in the small triumphs of human connection amidst a backdrop of global disaster.