Jon has been broken up with his ex-girlfriend Bailey, but he still has lingering unresolved feelings about her, which he details to his therapist.
But then Bailey re-enters his orbit, and the two embark on a fragile friendship. But their unfinished business brings out his feelings of neediness, anger and insecurity. And soon he realizes that the emotional tumult might be signs of deeper mental health challenges.
Written and directed by Jon Ebeling (who also plays the lead role), this short dramedy finds humor in the awkwardness of dealing with exes. But through its sharp dialogue and emotional rawness, it also shines a light on mental health challenges in a raw, honest way.
The filmmaking approach itself is also simple, with a mostly hand-held naturalistic feel that keeps the focus on writing and performances. In its broadest outlines, the story is about difficult breakups and the ways that they can leave us flailing. The opening scene with Jon's therapist seems to reveal some progress, though we quickly see from Jon's subsequent actions that the picture is more nuanced and complicated.
The storytelling has an eye for giving us glimpses of telling, ironic detail, whether it's in the offhand comments of other characters or a bystander's reaction. But as Jon and Bailey try to embark on a friendship, we feel more and more that it will be more a collision than anything.
As lead actor, Ebeling's performance is authentic and unvarnished. He plays the agony and anxiety of the situation, and while he finds irony and humor in his character's foibles, it's also a genuinely vulnerable and revealing performance that hints at the self-frustration and self-recrimination that feeds into Jon's larger issues. When he and Bailey meet up, it leads to a climax of essential self-sabotage, which brings out a darker side in Jon that he finally sees in sharp relief.
"Lizard Brain" is a colloquial term for the part of the brain that acts in primitive, non-rational or self-interested ways in response to stress or danger. And it's a fitting title, as Jon finally sees the way his lizard brain sabotages his relationships. The ending of the film has a flippant, ironic way to it, with Jon agreeing that therapy is "working" -- when it hasn't quite yet borne fruit. It may have given him some self-awareness of what's going on within himself, but he hasn't yet developed the tools to work with it. He's set for another leg on the journey, proving that the road to mental wellness and self-awareness is a winding one, full of unexpected detours, roadblocks, but sometimes also insight.