C.J. and Maggie are two stand-up comedians hanging out backstage in the “green room,” awaiting their turns onstage. But when Maggie goes on, C.J. discovers that she’s being bumped from the line-up for a famous comedian — who recently came under fire for allegations of sexual misconduct.
But when C.J. raises objections with the manager of the night, Mike, and another comic, David, she finds herself embroiled in a much larger debate. Soon she realizes that, despite the industry lip service and the more emboldened voices, show business is very much “business as usual.”
Written and directed by Kylie Murphy, this perceptive, sharply observed drama takes a volatile, contentious contemporary issue and brings it back down to a human, intimate level. It puts us in the subjective perspective of those who have to navigate an indifferent, sometimes hostile environment to follow their dreams, all while capturing how these environments perpetuate cycles of harassment and abuse of power.
Some of the film’s effective atmosphere of intimacy is created by the scope of the narrative, which is confined to one room, where comedians and other entertainers await their turn on the stage. Shot with the dark, almost lurid cinematography of a backstage environment, it’s a place where friendships are solidified and connections are made, which we see as C.J. and Maggie joke around, or as C.J. gets an opportunity to turn a joke into a sketch with Mike, who is also in charge of scheduling (and bumping) comedians for the night’s show.
But this hive of conviviality becomes a hothouse of tension when C.J. discovers that a famous comic (who remains unnamed in the short film) is taking C.J.’s slot for the rest of the show. As C.J. raises objections, the dialogue shifts from the friendly, brass-tacks banter of colleagues and friends to a more combative nature. Much of the tension and conflict is embedded in the content of the dialogue itself, which parses out both the arguments and their objections to a famous but problematic comedian returning to the stage.
The dialogue could veer towards the dogmatic, but it’s given real emotional charge by actor Iman Richardson in a terrific performance emphasized by camerawork focusing on long takes and closeups. C.J. isn’t just a voice trying to be heard in a difficult milieu; Richardson also captures the disillusion, disappointment and smallness of a woman (of color, to boot) being put in her place by those she thought of as friends.
“Green” never names the entertainer it’s perhaps inspired by, but in many ways, it doesn’t have to: many actors, comedians, filmmakers and others have faced accusations and charges of abusive behavior in the past few years. The film offers a small but intimate look at just how these cycles of abuse happen, starting with the enabling of colleagues who offer excuses and absolution to the silencing and shaming of those who speak up. The ending is resigned in many ways, as the two women attempt to come up with solutions and realize there’s nothing they can do. But it does offer some final moments of hope, as C.J. and Maggie lean on one another for comfort and understanding. They may have been shut out this night, but the hope is that such moments of solidarity will coalesce one day into true change.