The first date is not a coming of age ritual. It is not a step in a relationship. It is not a beginning. It is a period of immense awkwardness and trepidation that, no matter what excuse one makes to work around the first date atmosphere, will still exist. However, in case you decide you wish to volley for the worst first date award (which is tantamount to the Old Woman claiming the worst life in Candide), you should first pick up the film What Happened Was...
What Happened Was... a film directed, written by, and starring Tom Noonan, and dedicated to his wife. Having watched the film, I now wonder if he and his wife have suffered a divorce as a result or if they simply had something close to the complete nightmare of a first date illustrated in the film.
The film functions almost as a one-act play. There are two actors and one set, and, were it not from the period glance into other people's apartments, you would have the feeling as if you are not watching a movie at all. Unlike the majority of first-date films, the first date of What Happened Was... is the hour and a half entirety of the film. Thus, although it runs into the incredibly long for a one-act, it still cannot be called anything else.
The actors are Tom Noonan, playing a paralegal named Michael, and Karen Sillas, playing secretary Jackie Marsh. They both work at the same Manhattan law firm. They both find themselves in empty lives. Neither one dates much, and, as she was drawn to his sense of humor at the office, she invites him to dinner at her apartment.
The dinner and following conversation is what happens in the film.
Being not only a one-act formula film but also a top-notch one-act, the dialogue is excellent. The conversation flows like real conversation flows, and is just as interesting to listen to. Built masterfully into the air is a tension that is held up only by dialogue and performance in the film (it reaches a peak during the reading of the story that gives the film its title).
The trouble with writing an extremely positive review of a film like What Happened Was... is that, as any film so terribly complex yet so deceptively simple, it is hard to say anything about it. What can be said is that it possesses a raw soul that most movies are devoid of. Its characters are formed perfectly.
This is a film of pure thought. It thinks to the degree that, having watched it, you are left in silence for a few moments as you ponder what you have just seen. You began to contemplate, to attempt to draw conclusions from this thoroughly fascinating piece of art. And, as you can probably tell from this review, which is written two weeks after the fact, you don't get any conclusions anytime soon.