Jeff is waiting for his date with a co-worker at a coffee shop, nervous, eager and chatting with his mom. He's thrilled when she arrives, but as the date goes on, his nerves power a mile-a-minute stream of patter.
But is it nerves? As Jeff goes on, he's sweet and eager to please, but his propensity for acting out and endless banter escalate, much to the bewilderment of his fellow coffee shop denizens -- and his date's embarrassment. Jeff's raw nervous energy causes the date to take a downturn, much to his dismay.
Directed by Michaela Myers and written by Jon Ebeling (who also plays the titular role of Jeff), this nimble romantic comedy is essentially a self-contained scene of a date that goes off the rails. But from top to bottom, it's a delight to watch, thanks to its effervescent pacing, quick-witted writing and a bright, engaging approach to visuals that make for a cheerful optimism.
The film has a visual breeziness that characterizes many romantic comedies, matched by a jaunty rhythm that keeps viewers' attention constantly engaged. But it's Ebeling's performance that anchors the film, which captures both Jeff's near-manic animated chatter while keeping the emotions real and grounded in a man's eagerness to impress his date (and hide his nervousness.) The chatter itself is a tour-de-force of hilarious observations, opinions and general randomness, one that paints a picture of a man who has a lot to say and perhaps not a lot of opportunities to say it.
As Jeff gets going, the action and dialogue are well-calibrated and well-paced, starting with the occasional quip and non-sequitur. But when Jeff realizes his date isn't as it seems -- and likely not even a date, much to his disappointment -- his torrent of talk escalates, with Jeff stuffing his conversation with impersonations, characters and commentary. It's self-sabotage, perhaps, but in terms of its latent underlying anxiety and nerves, it's also very relatable.
But there's good news for Jeff, when his real self can't help but bubble to the surface during his romantic challenge. Charming, sweet and funny, "Jeff Can't Swim" ends on a hopeful note, one that proves that there's indeed someone for everyone when it comes to love and romance. But that only can happen if you lead with your authentic self, fully expressed in all its glory.