Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Eric Hailey, Dana Pupkin
Bill Sebastian
Juliet McDaniel
91 Mins.

 "Qwerty" Review 
Add to favorites
Marty (Eric Hailey) has an ass that isn't worth $55 underwear. Zoe (Dana Pupkin) loves him anyway.

The latest film from director Bill Sebastian (Midlothia), Qwerty is not a quirky love story. Qwerty is a love story about two people who live on the fringes of hope and self-esteem and social acceptance and love. In one of the film's earlier scenes, Marty is a security guard for a retail outlet who has a meltdown when he spies the aforementioned $55 underwear.

Because, as we've established, there ain't no ass worth $55 underwear.

Zoe is a lonely wordsmith with a kind heart and unresolved family issues that have left her with the appearance of a flower wilted inward.

Together? They blossom.

Qwerty isn't just your run-of-the-mill love story, however, because each individual's personal growth is just as important as the actual relationship. Both Marty and Zoe have been beaten down so considerably by life and those around them that they've seriously contemplated suicide. In order to learn how to love one another, Marty and Zoe will have to confront their fears, speak their truths and become more comfortable in their own skin.

For Zoe, that comfort begins to take form when the insecure young woman gains enough confidence to enter the National Scrabble Championship.

Yes, it really exists.

For Marty, the comfort begins to grow as he slowly starts to accept that Zoe doesn't so much need him as she simply really, really loves him.

As scripted by Juliet McDaniel, the relationship between Zoe and Marty is a realistically low-key mishmash of slow revealing vulnerabilities, baby steps towards intimacy and cathartic releases as our at first seemingly ill-conceived lovebirds discover that love is spelled in lots of different ways.

For example, Qwerty.

which is having its world premiere this very weekend at the Kansas City Film Festival, is already proving to be quite popular on the film festival circuit with appearances also already scheduled at the Dallas International Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. There's simply no doubt there are many more film festivals on Qwerty's cinematic horizon.

One of the biggest reasons that Qwerty shines so brightly is that McDaniel has given us two delightfully different yet equally searching souls. As Marty, Eric Hailey sort of does a constant simmer that makes you wonder exactly where he's going. To his credit, Hailey avoids taking Marty into anything resembling an over-the-top psychosis. Instead, Hailey plays Marty as a wounded man who has learned how to use his "got nothing left to lose" to his advantage. Hailey's Marty is damaged enough to be unpredictable, yet endearing enough that you can't help but sit there staring at the screen hoping it all works out. Hailey's is a quieter performance than that of Pupkin, but it's a disciplined and natural performance that feels authentically developed.

Hailey proves to be the perfect counterpoint to Pupkin's quietly vibrant performance as Zoe, a woman who lacks any awareness at all of her brilliance and beauty. While Hailey simmers, Pupkin percolates with an energy and spark that makes you practically stand up and cheer every time she scores another word. Pupkin also adds a remarkable touch of sweetness to Zoe, an earthiness that when it surfaces just leaves you in awe as in a scene when Marty has first moved in with her and he's been followed by a tag-a-long from his old neighborhood. The look on Pupkin's face as Zoe responds to this man with a simple act of kindness makes you fall in love with her even more.

Qwerty features exceptional camera work by D.P. David Wagenaar, who gives the film a warmth that perfectly complements McDaniel's dialogue. Original music by Bruce Chianese and Ricardo Veiga also serves the film quite well, while Qwerty's Chicago locale is utilized to perfection.

The film's supporting players, especially once the Scrabble tournament begins, are definitely unique but McDaniel and Sebastian wisely never turn them into caricatures. Every character, down to the most minor role, is as well developed as they need to be and Sebastian has cast his film wisely including the bit players.

With Midlothia, which Indianapolis moviegoers may remember from its run at the Indianapolis International Film Festival, Sebastian showed us that he could take complex, real life issues and weave a compelling story out of high drama. With Qwerty, Sebastian takes just as serious of a story but turns down the drama in favor of celebrating the quieter and more mundane moments in healing, loving and blossoming.

Qwerty is just beginning its film festival run and will no doubt experience quite a bit of success amongst the indie crowds. For more information on Qwerty, visit the film's Facebook page.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic