Brooke is struggling to write a eulogy for her father and has procrastinated until the day of his funeral. But a range of wildly ambivalent feelings come to the surface as she writes.
Her inner self wants Brooke to tell the truth about her father as an alcoholic and a narcissist. But Brooke has a hard time accepting the truth, much less telling it. And she must work through these contradictory feelings before she’s due at the church soon.
Written by Ryan Sheppard and directed by Brett Cramer, the premise of this short sounds like the backbone of a quietly poetic psychological drama. But the film is actually an almost manic riff on the musical genre, capturing the ups and downs of a woman’s complex emotions around her father.
The film’s journey is essentially an internal dialogue, as Brooke argues with her inner self about what she should say. Part of her tries to focus on the socially acceptable and the positive. But another part of her is angry, insisting that the eulogy tell the truth about Brooke’s father. In frustration at her writer’s block, Brooke decides to honor her father through a song — one that turns into a veritable aria of emotional tumult and shifts the film into musical territory.
The writing cleverly uses the conventions of musicals to further develop Brooke, particularly the use of song as a kind of “emotional close-up” into a character’s feelings, which modulate between reflective to frenetic for Brooke. The intensity of both the music and storytelling amp up when Brooke’s more sardonic inner self gets into the act, confronting Brooke with how her denial around her unresolved “father complex” affects her adult life and relationships.
It’s a testament to the ambition and confidence of the writing and music that we can traverse Brooke’s inner landscape with such depth, and the emotional registers hit almost operatic heights to the point where it threatens to derail the film. But certain anchors keep it from flying off the rails. Though the camera movements and editing keep up with the sometimes frantic pacing of Brooke’s emotional expression, the visuals have a somber, shadowy and muted quality throughout, keeping an undertone of melancholy throughout.
But the film’s real backbone is actor Meg Cashel, who plays both Brooke in real life and as a projection of her argumentative inner self. She has the sharp comedic timing to make the recriminating zingers sing (sometimes literally.) But she also knows how to let the wild tides of emotions settle, allowing them to sift and churn until they finally settle into a pure, moving moment of raw grief and pain, in which her two sides come together in understanding.
Unique, original and utterly committed to its creative choices, “The Eulogy” juggles tones, genres and emotions in a way that could almost be experimental. But the clarity of its storytelling brings its emotional universality to the fore. Many of us carry conflicted feelings about the people who raised us, which often come to the fore when they die. This can plunge us into self-reflection, which can be destabilizing if we’re not prepared. We often think we’ve moved on and built new lives for ourselves. But when faced with the finality of death, we realize the initial love and longing haven’t died at all. Instead, we’re unmoored and lost in a pain we thought we left behind.