It has been a long time since I cried as much during a film as I did during writer/director Annie St. Pierre's Indy Shorts Narrative Grand Prize-winning short film Like the Ones I Used to Know, a beautiful ensemble coming-of-age story brought remarkably to life with a stellar ensemble cast and a story that feels vivid and real with all its laughter and, yes, all its tears.
The date is December 24, 1983. Denis (Steve Laplante) is idling in his car outside the home of his in-laws. Inside, his ex-wife (Alice Charbonneau) and her new boyfriend (Jeremy Tremblay Boudreau) party the night away with loved ones while Denis anxiously works up the courage to knock on that door and pick up his two children, Julie (Lilou-Roy Lanouette) and Mathieu (Laurent Lemaire).
To call this all a melancholy scenario would be an understatement, though it feels like a lived in scenario and one that likely repeats itself in family homes all across the world during the holiday season.
It's abundantly clear that Denis is at least a little down his luck mostly because he's down on himself. The kids aren't exactly enthused about leaving their joy-filled festivities for what will obviously be a much quieter night with dad, but you can tell that Denis loves his kids and I myself couldn't sit through the unfolding scenario without shedding more than a few tears.
St. Pierre has poignantly crafted such a wonderful little story here. It's a little familiar, perhaps, but seldom does a storyteller nail the tone as perfectly as does St. Pierre. There's an honest sense of wonder here, part nostalgia and part desperately clinging to the past while being fearful of the future. It's practically perfect storytelling.
Speaking of perfect, can I just say that young Lilou-Roy Lanouette is nothing short of miraculous here? Every word. Every gesture. Every look and glance and giggle left me in awe of such an insightful, inspired performance by such a young actress. It's easily one of the best child performances I've seen in quite some time. There's a simple scene after Denis has left the home and returned to his car that had me bawling like a little kid.
I swear. It was magnificent.
While it may have seemed like Lanouette stole every scene she was in, the truth is that the entire ensemble was incredibly strong. Laplante finds the perfect balance as Denis, almost a sadsack but a genuinely good guy who likely deserves better than he gets. Alice Charbonneau is strong, as well, and avoids what could have so easily become a caricature. Instead, we get all the nuances of humanity for a character who, it would seem, simply moved on into a situation that works better for her.
Etienne Roussy's lensing feels like it's coming-of-age itself, a weird kaleidoscopic blending of holiday-tinged lights and blurry memories from the not-so-distant past. There's richness of humanity in Roussy's lens that is almost uncomfortably intimate at times, yet there's joy and laughter and reality here in abundance.
Music by Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux fits nicely into the entire scenario while Eric Barbeau's art direction and Gabrielle Lauzier's costume design both find their own special magic within this complex yet familiar story.
Like the Ones I Used to Know picked up the $5,000 top prize for Narrative Short at the 2021 Indy Shorts International Film Festival and is now Academy Award-qualified. I'd be amazed if we don't continue to hear St. Pierre's name as the award season comes closer because there's simply no denying that Like the Ones I used to Know is one of 2021's most engaging, compelling, and entertaining narrative shorts.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic