The Final Act of Joey Jumbler

It isn’t nearly as familiar as the actor’s struggle, but it can’t be easy making a living as a clown these days.  The big traveling circuses are all gone, which leaves children’s birthday parties and perhaps the occasional baby shower, which can’t amount to much.  Kids are probably less entertained in general by clowns in this age of Candy Crush and scary clown stories in the news.  The title character in the short film The Final Act of Joey Jumbler is very far from scary, however; he’s more reminiscent of old-fashioned clowns like Emmett Kelly, a lost soul with whom you just want to share your last sandwich.

Joey and his red nose face the world.

At least, you do unless you’re some of the people who employ Joey (Alain Boucher) — one such wealthy family, who apparently hired him to entertain three kids during a regular family dinner certainly disprove the old adage that all the world loves a clown.  The children are unsurprisingly a bit spoiled but it’s the grownups in the family that you’ve really got to watch out for.  But Joey  bears his troubles stoically and gets through his day as best he can, walking through the streets in his clown makeup and a battered old suit, hauling behind him the suitcase that holds his balloons and other props.

It’s a strange existence, forcing him to move between resigned acceptance and the effervescence of his entertainer persona without warning, but he finds his small joys wherever he can.  Chief among those is seeing his daughter Mathilde (Leanne Labelle) at the end of the day, the one thing that makes all the struggle worthwhile.  But as the title implies, Joey may not be able to maintain the precarious balance of his life much longer, and his stoicism might not get him through everything.

The sad clown is a tale far older than Pagliacci, but that doesn’t make Joey’s story any less heartbreaking or the way he faces his situation any less poignant.  Boucher plays his role beautifully, neither falling into despair or tipping into mania, and there’s a subtle pain in watching him hold himself together even when it seems as though all he wants is to fall apart.  Writer-director Harley Chamandy does both jobs expertly, creating a small gem of a film that’s quietly, wonderfully moving.

The Red Lotus

If you have siblings, you know that those relationships can be complex and very strong, even if you don’t necessarily like each other all that much sometimes.  But for good or ill, there’s often a bond that can’t be broken and there isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our siblings even when they drive us crazy. Certainly brothers and sisters often instinctively know the best way to persuade (or guilt) a sibling into going along with things they think are silly, as happens in The Red Lotus.  Michelle (Jennifer Plotzke) has talked her little sister Debbie (Shara Ashley Zeiger) into trying a weekend yoga retreat at the aforementioned Red Lotus, even though Debbie clearly thinks the whole idea is ridiculous.  But Michelle has recently broken up with her horrible boyfriend Adam (Jared Prudoff-Smith), so perhaps Debbie thinks she’s in need of humoring.

Meeting Orelia (Paula Rossman), the woman who runs The Red Lotus, isn’t exactly reassuring either, as she prattles on about the symbolism of the center’s name and the proper chants to use.  But The Red Lotus is more than it appears to be, and Michelle didn’t ask Debbie to come along merely to keep her company.  The film is set slightly in the future, at a time where Roe v. Wade has been overturned, and this seemingly innocuous retreat also provides a now-illegal service that Michelle is in need of.  Debbie, understandably, is shocked to discover that she’s been dragged into something shady, and it seems as though this is one sisterly bond that might have reached the breaking point.

Michelle and Debbie contemplate loss, togetherness, and the sea.

But it’s that very relationship between the sisters that turns the movie into something special.  It’s otherwise a refreshingly, almost shockingly matter of fact look at a world that’s gone backwards, a film that faces the issues without trying to play on the emotions.  It’s poignant enough to experience this world through the eyes of the sisters and the movie wisely avoids delving into moral arguments.  Though some of the later scenes aren’t particularly realistic, much of the film has more of an allegorical feel to it — a sense that anyone might find themselves or someone they care about in a similar situation — and the important point is that Michelle and Debbie are as solid and real as they get, offering a keen, timely reminder that we all need to value our freedoms while we still have them.

Simon’s Quest

There are at least 16,000 awkward things about dating, especially those early dates.  One of the most awkward — and one of the most likely to show up in questions to online advice columnists — is figuring out when to share a potentially sensitive fact about yourself.  After all, there can be a fine line between letting the other person get to know you better and completely oversharing, and depending on the subject some of these conversations can be horrifying.  It’s one thing to explain that you have an uncle who’s convinced there are aliens living in his rosebushes, and quite another to have to admit that you’re a werewolf, as happens in Simon’s Quest.

Simon (Johnny Pozzi) was a regular guy until one night and one bite turned him into a werewolf.  He isn’t alone, at least, even though James (James Tison), the guy who turned him, vanished immediately thereafter.  No, this is a world with plenty of monsters around, vampires and demons as well as werewolves, though they generally prefer to be called the afflicted rather than monsters.  But Simon hasn’t had the nerve to date since he was turned, and Gwen (Talley Gale) and Robert (Lucas Brahme) want to change that.

Robert, Gwen, and Simon play games and talk Castlevania.

It’s a nice thought but they aren’t really all that helpful, since their main focus is on making a documentary about Simon’s life as a werewolf.  They get him on Tinder and act as cheerleaders, but I’d be more than nervous enough about dating without two people watching (and recording) my every move.  But he gets a match with a guy with the unlikely name of Skyye, and Simon tentatively starts trying to get other aspects of his life back together as well.  He joins a support group for the afflicted, and with help from the group’s new leader, Pat (Timothy J. Cox), takes his first steps towards becoming part of the world again.  But there are plenty of things waiting to trip him up along the way, and telling Skyye the whole truth might not even be the worst one.

With a solid script and capable directing from Marley Jaeger, it’s a wonderful mix of drama, humor, a touch of fantasy, and a dash of riotous satire — Axe Alucard (Anibal Nobel), monster hunter, is wildly over the top, as is Liz (Liz Days), the former support group leader, though honestly the demon in the group (Krystal K.C. Wilson) seems pretty nice.  But Simon’s Quest also has plenty of genuinely touching moments, as Simon is constantly torn between his own deep loneliness and the very real chance that he might wake up the morning after the full moon to discover that he’s shredded the person he cares about most in the world.  We all worry about hurting the ones we love sometimes, just not usually quite so literally.

Pat counseling the afflicted.

There are obvious parallels between the plight of the monsters — sorry, afflicted — and the similar situations often faced by the LGBTQ community in the not too distant past.  And it still isn’t all that easy to be anything other than mainstream in all your life choices, even these days.  But this parallel is handled just as discreetly as the monsters are, without a drop of blood or a single sharp, shining fang appearing on-screen.  It’s the quiet, gentle Simon and his very ungentle curse that will capture the audience, and rightly so.  In these internet days it’s easy to forget that every bit of suffering you hear about has a human face attached — even if once a month that face might turn fanged and furry — and this compelling short film reminds us brilliantly of that.