Joseph is heartbroken after he loses Alana, and he can't stop calling her. So he enlists the help of a therapist to deal with the break, in an attempt to lift the weight of the past off his shoulders... literally. But letting go of Alana proves harder than anticipated.
Directed by Gregory J.M. Kasunich and written by Phillip Musumeci (who also stars in the lead role), this short romantic drama has a seemingly absurdist take on holding onto the past after a romantic bond has ended. Joseph literally goes about his life without Alana still carrying her on his shoulders. Draped on his shoulders, she is omnipresent no matter where Joseph goes, especially as he replays past moments and conversations in his memory and still has dialogues with her in his imagination.
The conceit of the film could seem gimmicky at first, but as the storytelling unfolds, it acquires deeper meaning, especially since the writing takes Joseph's emotional stasis seriously, layering inner monologue with often prosaic dialogue. There are comic and clever moments with the observations and absurdities reflected in the dialogue and voiceover, but Joseph's pain and suffering continue, even with the real Alana out of his everyday life. Her memory has become a weight, obstructing Joseph's happiness and ability to move on.
That melancholy is reflected in the muted, moody colors and lighting of the visuals, as well as the often artful flashes to Joseph and Alana's past, when the pair were sharing happier times. Musumeci's performance is also understated and thoughtful, especially as he tries to keep his connection with Alana going via phone calls and can't let go. But he reaches a crisis point when Alana's voicemail box is filled. His exasperated therapist finally pushes him to say all the things he needs to say goodbye, bringing all of Joseph's grief and sadness to the surface.
Balancing the sharply comic with an undertow of sadness, "How to End a Conversation" ends on a subtle, moving twist, one that illuminates the nature of both the couple's bond and the reason for their breaking apart. The film's visual conceit also acquires more layers of meaning as the full dramatic situation unfolds, and we understand the extent of Joseph's loss. It's not just the haunting weight of memories, but also the enduring, sometimes unbearable nature of love. And perhaps it's also the way that denial is a way of holding onto some emotional connection -- one that is entirely human and understandable, but one that we have to face and let go of as part of being alive, and being left behind.