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Hard To Do

by TBALC

Reviews

Communication is key to any successful relationship, and a lack of communication is quite often the root cause for any unsuccesful relationship. TBALC took this idea and ran with it, exploring how choking up bottled up feelings like Rabbit in his first 8-MILE battle can have disastrous consequences.

With the stage set through a breakup speech being prepared at the start of the film, only to walk out to an engagement proposal, things only escalated through more and more awkward humour as the film unraveled.

TBALC you are one of my favourite teams of all time in this comp, and the baseline for your plot to develop was perfectly set here. I think an awful lot of people can relate to communication as it is a universal issue for most people, and it going so big in scale by covering ground like weddings, death and children was well done in terms of building scale and tension.

However, the film for me was literally crying out for some more impact. I think it would have made an excellent stage play, because on that note most of the film was either sitting or standing around and delivering lines. The cringe comedy was great at times, making me personally take deep breaths at the awkwardness. Nice script. But for example, the finale being a pressure release and then providing cruel fate without an impactful reaction shot just felt like a missed opportunity for me.

Technically I can't really complain, framing and edit throughout was smooth, good clear sound, just a personal opinion of the beats not having the punch they could have. But if cringe was the goal well then my grading is probably lower than it should be.

Story: 3.5/5
Technical: 4/5
Elements: 2.5/5
Overall: 3/5

I'm always going to judge TBALC on a curve, on account of them being my former team and current friends, and on account of them historically being the most successful team in the Christchurch competition. I also think that they can take the feedback. So for non-TBALC teams, this review is going to read as unnecessarily scathing, but know that it comes out of love for the team, and out of the frustration of seeing a potentially great film reduced to a merely pretty good one (and a very likely finalist).

HARD TO DO's story is real good and a return to form for TBALC. The story of someone being peer-pressured into not just a marriage, but a pregnancy (I think?) and ultimately years and years of care for someone they don't really like, has great potential for some acidic cringe comedy, and there is a bit of that in here.

However! I feel like the execution of this idea lets the film down somewhat. It's not a technical thing - it's crisply-shot and the sound is well above-par. It's not an acting thing - the lead actress delivers a really good comic "straight-man" performance that is restrained but bears absolutely clear intent in every scene.

Ultimately, it's a writing thing, and it's a directing thing. This kind of story relies on escalation, and the structure of the finished film doesn't quite ride that curve in a satisfying way. It gives whole scenes to moments that should be just that, moments, and in doing so robs itself of screentime that could have been spent further upping the stakes, increasing the situation's absurdity, and being meaner to its main character. We don't need to see or hear from a gynaecologist when the main character has her legs in stirrups; we don't need to see a book or self-pep talk about breaking up when the performance sells the situation; we do need more build to the central relationship in order to push the character to breaking point at the end, which in its submitted form is a bit abrupt. Knowing a bit about how the team works internally, it's classic TBALC: writing too much script, not writing visually, and losing vital connective tissue as a result.

Those issues are also tied into the directing: unmotivated compositions, cutaways, and edits that prioritise coverage on the large cast over the protagonist's journey. The film would probably be better served with fewer setups, focusing more on the protagonist instead of the expanding family causing her such grief; instead, the film gives those characters too much emotional buy-in, from the health revelation that makes the wife character a bit too sympathetic, to an ending that confusingly gives the final image to the elderly grandpa (a character seemingly abducted from a completely different type of film), when a final closeup on the protagonist would've put a hilarious, ecstatically cruel button on the story. It's a strong story, and it still reads and plays to an audience (as the Audience Favourite award demonstrates); it's just not the best version of itself, coming off as a bit unfocused and safe when it should have much, much more edge.

If I had to give advice to TBALC, it'd be the same advice as ever: can these story beats be communicated more efficiently? What's the simplest, most elegant, or most appropriate way to visually frame the story? What's most important to the story, and what can be lost? What's the core that makes this story unique and how can you make the most of it? And why on earth is this film called "Hard To Do" and not "Together Forever"? Important questions for us all.

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