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The Independent Critic

Lauren Meley, Michael Scott Ross, Hall Hunsinger
Eric Norcross
38 Mins.

 "Caroline of Virginia" Review 
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I love fairy tales.

I know. I know. That may sound incredibly strange for those of you who visit this little world of mine often and recognize me as the rather jaded film writer and social justice activist.

But I do. I love fairy tales.

While I don't always invest myself in the ideas of hope and love and sacrifice, I love to reflect upon them and to immerse myself in a world that includes them.

Caroline of Virginia is a fairy tale set in the very real world of New York City. The film takes place during the New York City transit strike and centers around Caroline (Lauren Meley), a deaf young woman who works in a bookstore. One day, she has a quietly romantic encounter with an under-appreciated musician (Michael Scott Ross).

The two click, perhaps recognizing in each other an unacknowledged strength of heart and spirit. He sees in her a young woman who is taunted and teased for her physical challenges yet her spirit is never extinguished and she, in turn, genuinely appreciates his music even if it is something she cannot hear herself.

A chance encounter with a wizard (Hall Hunsinger), this is a fairy tale after all, leads to our musician being granted the wish that Caroline be able to truly hear his music. For the next three days, the wizard grants, the lovely young Caroline will be able to hear her new love's music. However, at the end of the three days there is a price for the musician to pay ... he himself will lose his own hearing.

Oh, but wait. There's one more catch. IF the New York City transit strike ends within these three days, the deal is null and void and our musician will have no price to pay for this most romantic of gestures.

Caroline of Virginia is proof positive that you can create a sweeping, magical fairy tale within the confines of a lower budget, indie short film. We like to say that the greatest benefit a film can have is genuine talent, and Caroline of Virginia is filled to the brim with talent both on and off the screen.

Of course, it all begins with Caroline. To be a convincing fairy tale, a film simply must convince in both the the real world and the world that transcends the human experience. Lauren Meley gives a beautiful performance as a young woman who seemingly manages to find the beauty in her everyday life despite her own physical challenges. Meley's performance as a deaf young woman, at least to this non-hearing impaired film writer, was so convincing that I found myself looking her up to see if she really was deaf (She's not). Watch Meley's eyes and body language as her miracle unfolds and she begins to experience life in a different way - it's as if we're watching an already beautiful flower blossom and reach up to the skies.

This is not to say that Michael Scott Ross is outshined, though his performance is definitely lower key. Ross has the unenviable task of playing opposite a wizard, played with relentless enthusiasm and quirkiness by Hall Hunsinger. Ross has a rather quiet "guy next door" charm about him. You can't help but get the sense that his music, at least until he meets Caroline, is his one safe place in the world. It's no small trick to create a transcendent and magical interaction on the big screen without all the usual CGI gimmicks to do so, but the interactions between the musician and the wizard are both grounded and otherworldly. Ross's chemistry with Meley is quiet and sweet and natural and, perhaps most importantly, you get the sense that these two would be an absolutely lovely couple even without some miracle entering their lives. Ross exudes the type of warmth that makes you fully believe that our young musician really would fully invest himself in learning Caroline's language if it meant a genuine connection.

Caroline of Virginia was shot on a micro-budget and those budgetary restrictions are evident at times in the film's production quality, but rather than focus on the inherent limitations and tech quirks that come with producing a low-budget indie short it's impossible not to admire how much Norcross accomplishes given the obvious challenges he faced. John Langley creatively addresses the challenges of creating a sound design that balances both the fairy tale world and the very real world of Caroline both before and after hearing becomes a part of her life. Langley takes the very real sounds of New York City and weaves them into the film's auditory story, an approach that both works within the story's framework and also helps to lessen the impact of any budgetary concerns on the audio experience. Norcross himself does the same thing with the camera work, expertly using lighting to create the fairy tale world while working with the natural New York City setting.

Caroline of Virginia is the kind of film that you watch and then think to yourself "I want to watch it again," having become so enchanted with its characters and the simplicity yet honesty of its story. Caroline of Virginia is currently on the film festival circuit and has already been an Official Selection of New Filmmakers New York and Tribeca Grand After Set Program. For more information on Caroline of Virginia, visit the film's website and Facebook page.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic