In We’re Too Good for This, the Heist Gets Theoretical.
Missy Malek’s latest short We’re Too Good for This both is and is not a film “about” disability. It is neither the heartstring-pulling yet patronizing tale of overcoming—implying that one’s immutable nature is an obstacle to be surmounted—nor the touting of a proverbial token character—in which a disability is displayed for inclusionary clout but never once seriously interrogated.
No, We’re Too Good for This is, in all essence, a heist movie, a crime thriller closer to something like Good Time (2017) with a refreshing injection of youthful joy and taunting rebelliousness. Reeling along with four friends with disabilities as they involve themselves in small-time drug trade, the film toys with both notions of accessibility and the adolescent desire for the extreme that problematize and then successfully disrupt screen depictions of disability with a free-wheeling assurance.
The Good Time comparison is—excuse the self-indulgence—a strong one: We’re Too Good for This exhibits a similarly erratic handheld camera and lightly pulsing electronic score reminiscent of the former film’s greatest moments of euphoric tension. In the opening sequence, Scott (Keron Day), Julian (Jayden Reid), and Anthony (Asa Hems) tear through a video game with abandon as the camera vibrates around them, Scott throwing an expression of pure ecstasy for the moment.
This elation extends to film’s primary conflict, in which the friends—joined by a fourth, Fatima (Asnath Iosala)—infiltrate a garage to steal a hidden cache of cocaine from Anthony’s drug-dealing bully of a brother Steelo (Jude Chinchen). The camera gliding low along Anthony’s wheelchair, the cuts to parallel action outside the garage in which Julian and Scott distract the guards, the wavy and percussive score—the heist sequence carries a sense of urgency and a near-libidinal thrill for the proximity to danger.
Sure, an interpretation along the lines of “people with disabilities commit crimes, too” can be made. Instances that negate the perceived innocence or even juvenility of people with disabilities confirm this: in one instance, Anthony and Fatima talk their way out of custody by convincing an officer that Fatima lost her hearing aid behind the bin where the coke was stashed. In another, Scott distracts the guards outside by wailing madly, a bait-and-switch equivalent to the more classical heist film’s getaway driver clearing the way for a clean escape.
On the other hand, the film’s conceit also asserts the commonness of youth with disabilities; like all young people, they crave adventure, performing acts of renegade disobedience with glee and aplomb. In this way, We’re Too Good for This alternates foregrounding its four burglars’ spirit and ability—the mind and the body—according to circumstance, melding the two into a more holistic and rounded view of character.
But perhaps these are the ways in which the film is not strictly about disability. Where it is, however, comes from a place more theoretical than scripted. Take, for example, a sequence in which the boys attempt to get Fatima on board: speaking clearly and signing simultaneously are Julian and Anthony, while Scott speaks but does not sign and Fatima signs but does not speak. The two forms of communication are used interchangeably, reinforcing one another even in instances where it is not strictly necessary to convey meaning (Julian and Anthony signing while speaking to one another, for example).
Throughout this sequence, subtitles transcribe both the spoken and signed language, introducing a third form of communication to the mix. In this elegantly littered fusion, the accessibility of both diegetic and film-object language is placed in conversation; as Julian signs while speaking with Anthony for the benefit of Fatima, so too does the film subtitle speech and sign for the benefit of its audience. In this perhaps the film’s most interesting sequence, multiple language forms are used both within and without the film’s world to broaden the potential for understanding, bearing new syntactic relationships between content and form.
It’s here where We’re Too Good for This comes full circle in its negation of trope. Pairing challenged notions of character with investigations of film linguistics, the short disrupts in uncommon ways. While the film’s climactic final moments do offer a bit of predetermination in the form of a triumphant revenge—although, to its credit, that moment is similarly put on its head, albeit by an overwrought unexpected tragedy—We’re Too Good for This consistently urges its viewers to rethink their perceptions not only of disability but of its on-screen portrayals. When the credits roll, it’s good; when the film is thoroughly mulled over, as it asks its audiences to do, it’s great.
Images courtesy of Macpoppy Films.
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