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Did you ever wonder if your aulersonal faults were manufactured? I hope not, as faults are far more complex than that, but it does make for a good story. There are a lot of good ideas living within such a concept, and I’m somewhat surprised that it hasn’t been explored in film before. I say that, yet I hadn’t thought of such a concept until I saw Gary Roberts’ short film, The Problemless Anonymous.
The story that comes with this concept is a man has been summoned to a clinic, under the threat of prison time. Why has he been summoned to the clinic? Because according to an all-encompassing yet mysterious test, he’s a perfect person. So he is kept within the clinic until the doctors can “prescribe” him with a personal fault, an imperfection to make him a “normal” person. Most of the film is spent within the waiting room, where our lead nervously discusses his worries and opens up to a strange young woman called Bonny.
One thing that really jumped out to me about this film was how bizarre it is. I know, big surprise that it’s a strange one with that plot; but while I liked that too, I meant the atmosphere the film gives. Oddly enough the film manages to be both light-hearted and upbeat, and dark and surreal at the same time. The tone and filming style feels like a mix of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. We have an oddly upbeat, good humoured and eccentric tone to the film, but all the while there is something unsettling about the whole thing, leading to a darkly comical finish. It’s haunting, yet funny. It’s unpleasant, yet completely delightful. It feels almost corporate, despite the fact that this is very clearly a labour of love from Gary Roberts.
Roberts shot this film in only two days; that is a fact that does not show in the finish product. This is, despite its quirks, a very professional looking film. It looks like everyone knew what they were doing and how to achieve it. The film deals with many in-depth themes and messages; including self-acceptance, manipulation and insecurity. And all of it is told in an Orwellian style. I paused the film at one point in the film to see what was displayed in the background, which gave me more of this Orwellian sense. There are numerous posters and advertisements on a board and they told me all I needed to know about the society outside of the clinic walls. We see that this is a society that appears to be run by the corporation, but this corporation doesn’t do what, say Minority Report does in keeping everyone to a strict and uniform image. This is a society that plans on making money out of any fault a person may have, to the point where people’s life’s will be ruined…but at least they have the excuse of “well, we’re not perfect”. It’s a nice and subtle parody of what we have today, with ads and fliers for such things as self-help, quitting smoking, marriage counsellors, plastic surgery; I have often found my Facebook bombarded with adverts and “advice” for environmentalism and weight loss. To me, it was just hilarious seeing the opposite, where there is literally an advert saying go out and smoke and get drunk, just so they have a problem. The whole film is like this, with every little thing in every shot feels important somehow. Which is the perfect, and possibly even only, way to get this story and this world across to us.
But to make all of this work we needed good characters with good performances. Which is ultimately what was delivered. From the get go our lead strikes instant sympathy and relatability with us. Why? Because he doesn’t feel perfect, something that more people than who would like to admit can get behind. The film is also very clever in making you wonder if the test machine made a mistake with him; which is exactly how you should feel. He feels like an outsider, who finally comes to grips with where he stands in this world. This mirrors what we feel as an audience as we begin to understand the film. It’s easy to see him as just the tool for the audience to view this world, but then the ending comes along, giving him a strange sense of identity. But the better character is Bonny. Along with the previously stated themes, Bonny brings one more far deeper depth to the story. The theme of the fear of change, and some of the extremes that we will go to in order to avoid change. She is quirky and very funny to watch, as well as somewhat tragic. Her actions hide and reveal her all the way through. It’s amazing what a simple detail like an eyepatch can do for a character if used correctly. Her arc was endearing and heart-warming, until the shockingly hilarious ending. Speaking of, I can see the ending throwing a few people off. I was definitely thrown by it; not because it’s bad but because I didn’t see it coming and it went completely against my predictions. It’s the same reason films like Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange can throw you, because that was the intention; therefore, to blame them for doing so is actually a form of compliment.
It’s hard not to applaud a film like The Problemless Anonymous. A film that has such a grip on its tone that it can feel like The Office one moment and then A Clockwork Orange the next and you wouldn’t notice the difference shows a sign of talent. It’s a short film that does require numerous viewings, but it also makes you want to re-watch it. It’s hard to pick a fault with it without nit-picking. There was clear love for this project and it does clearly show in every second. For a film about the faults of people, here’s a film with very few. Almost ironic really.