A distraught man is driving on a remote country road, music blaring and boxes of stuff rattling in his backseat. But despite his emotion, he stops when he spots a young woman next to a car flagging him down.
But she’s not stranded. Instead, she has an odd request: she needs someone to take her picture. Turns out, this is the first of many odd, strange requests and stories she will tell him — as an equally outlandish story unfolds, unbeknownst to him.
Written and directed by Jamie Fraser, this dark comedic short is as oddly captivating as the seemingly guileless, quirky young woman at the center of the story. Like the film, she spins an almost freakish story, told with such matter-of-factness that we can’t help but be swept along upon what turns out to be an even odder tale.
The strength of the film is its unpredictability, starting with the visuals and editing, which have both a pastoral, understated naturalism that suits the setting, and camerawork that is almost stately in its movement. Yet there’s something just slightly off-kilter in the bright classical score and the editing’s rhythms, which also suits how the young woman tells her story.
As she veers from one request to the next, she weaves a type of narrative Jenga, balancing one strange block on the next. There are an accident, dead parents, and a nunnery involved, and actor Charly Clive weaves it all together with a mesmerizing balance of vulnerability, charm and command. She delivers the nimble dialogue with terrific timing, but the rhythm is rooted not in the demands of hitting a punchline, but of character and circumstance.
Unraveling those circumstances takes “What In the World” into unexpected directions. To elaborate more would be to give some of the pleasure away, but the truth is even weirder and more eccentric than the young woman’s story. It unspools with ironic cheekiness, but it also unearths the distressed man’s own story, which exists at a more tragic and sincere register. The juxtaposition of these two stories colliding one random afternoon in the countryside creates its strange poignancy, both for the audience and perhaps even for the young woman, who offers up a sincere moment of comfort. It’s said that we are all starring in our own movies, and certainly, the man and young woman are amid their own very different journeys. But when our separate narratives intersect, even for just an incident, it makes for those riveting, singular moments that make life random, peculiar and oddly resonant.