Sexist, backhanded compliments are a sure-fire way to impress a woman in 2018; a sentiment that Punchline relishes in tearing apart. A woman’s basketball practice is interrupted by a man who tells her that she plays as well as a man. For the following few minutes, Punchline focuses on the appropriate reaction to such a comment. It is a premise that works perfectly for a short format, but not one that particularly holds room for development into a longer piece. To serve the agenda, the characters do not succeed a single dimension, though are played wisely by actors Molly McNerney and Bill Evans.
Despite it’s brief running time, Punchline succeeds in entertaining, carefully sidestepping the trap of the “bait and switch” structure most short films favour. The plot relies on an inherently cinematic trope – a protagonist imagines what they wish they could say or do, before it is revealed what actually happened. A technique used particularly strongly in films like Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, writer/director Zen Kiddo takes things a step further. Defining the polish term “Jouska” at the beginning of the film, Kiddo is able to repeat the inciting event not just once but multiple times, allowing the protagonist to determine which of her many options was the correct response to have.
Unapologetic and more than a little relevant, Kiddo’s film is a testament to a rightfully prevailing attitude in cinema, and the western world in general. Female characters who aren’t defined by their male screen partners are a scarcity in film, but film’s like this are a step in the right direction. Perhaps one day a woman will be able to play basketball without the insufferable comments of a man, but until then we’re happy to see said woman fighting back. Indicating Kiddo’s knowledge and ability, Punchline wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, or printed on it’s basketball in this case. As short films go, this one is very much worth the few minutes of play time, even if you can guess the ending by reading the title.
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