Doll It Up

Whether they involve friends, family, or significant others, relationships change whether we want them to or not. Friends can drift apart, family dynamics can shift in different ways, and love can fade. That’s what’s happened with Gunther (Timothy J. Cox) and his wife of three years, Natalie — it seems as though the simplest remark can start a fight, and Gunther just isn’t happy any longer.

Gunther takes delivery of Wife #2
Happiness in a plain brown wrapper.

Enter raven-haired Dorri, Gunther’s new flame and apparent soulmate. He showers her with gifts and affection, and poor Nat is completely forgotten. I’m not sure how much Nat minds, though, since she’s a total airhead. No, I’m not being mean: both Nat and Dorri are inflatable dolls. Yes, those kinds of dolls. Admittedly Dorri has a more human face, but she’s also getting perilously close to uncanny valley territory. And perhaps with more human looks come more human flaws as well, for as it turns out even Dorri has her secrets. Has Gunther lost every possible chance at happiness?

It’s a thoroughly zany concept for a short film that takes itself absolutely seriously, to fantastic effect. It’s human nature to sometimes want something simply because we can’t have it, never more so than in affairs of the heart, and this wild satire drives that home. Gunther’s struggles are more than a little laughable, but we can also sympathize with Cox’s pitch-perfect guy next door performance, even as we feel a little superior to him. After all, we’d never treat OUR relationships like they’re so utterly disposable — would we?

Three Doors from Paradise

Moving can be rough.  Even if you like the idea of new experiences it isn’t always easy to find a place that really feels like home, not to mention the problem of finding new friends.  Don’t even get me started on packing and unpacking.  But all this is exponentially more difficult if you’re already someone who relies heavily on routine and the help of others, and one day you find yourself out in the wide world without the safety nets you’re used to.

Rose and Brandon
Rose rescues Brandon from the horror of figuring out how much things cost.

This is what happens to Brandon (Robert Aloi), in Three Doors from Paradise, a new feature-length film from Joe Lobianco and the folks at Tin Mirror, makers of Quality Control.  Brandon is autistic and lives in a group home run by Stephanie (Debra Toscano) and Jerry (Maarten Cornelis).  But the home is now being shut down and Brandon needs another place to live.  Apparently considered just high-functioning enough to try managing on his own, an apartment has been arranged for him.

First of all, though, said apartment is roughly the size of a shoebox, and second is in a truly terrifying neighborhood.  Like many autistic individuals, Brandon is prone to meltdowns if he feels pressured or confused, and any change to his routine is stressful.  Now he’s out in a world where people expect him to do things like chat and make eye contact,  besides being able to handle money, none of which he can actually do.  Worse, there’s almost constant noise from next door as one of his neighbors (Stacy Kessler) mainly communicates with her young daughter, Rose (Kylie Silverstein), through screaming.

Then Brandon meets another neighbor, Tammy Lynn (Erica Boozer), who shows up at his door looking for help fixing something.  Considering that the landlord probably hasn’t fixed anything in that building since the seventies, it’s lucky for her that Brandon likes jigsaw puzzles, and with that approach is able to come to the rescue.  But while Tammy Lynn accepts Brandon as he is, her boyfriend Argo (John Anantua) is a lot less understanding, not to mention less law-abiding.  Despite such hiccups, however, Brandon, Rose, and Tammy Lynn slowly start to help each other in many ways, and maybe — just maybe — Brandon’s new life isn’t as awful as he expected.

It’s an engaging drama with a nice slow build, pulling the viewer into Brandon’s new and often alarming world, peopled with realistic characters.  Their stories are sometimes tragic, sometimes gently funny, but always familiar, with Rose in particular an expert at making the best of whatever life might throw her way.  And while I’m no expert, the portrayal of Brandon and his disability seems solid and grounded in reality.  The symptoms of his disorder shape his life, but they never entirely define him as he gradually begins to accept that new experiences might not be automatically horrifying after all.  Sometimes the happiness we’re all looking for is just far enough out of our comfort zone to require a leap of faith.