It's the chances in life that we take. It's the random connections that we make. Hell, I don't know if it's all random. There are those who would call it some kind of God thing, though in my mind sometimes that would make God some kind of of weird-ass twisted divine presence.
I suppose I prefer to see it all as randomness. Writer/director Jeffrey Palmer captures that randomness quite nicely in his 24-minute short film Split Costs, a film starring Mela Hudson and Tori Hall as two young women from disparate backgrounds who connect online and share a need to split costs on a ride western Massachusetts where, upon arriving, each will suffer unexpected setbacks and be forced to make pivotal life decisions that may very well determine the direction of their lives.
If this all sounds rather dramatic for a 24-minute short, it is. It also works largely on the strength of Palmer's excellent pacing and editing along with emotionally honest, disciplined performances from both Mela Hudson and Tori Hall.
Mela Hudson is Emma, a severely financially distressed young woman whose visit to Amherst is inspired by her need to hit mom (Jane Harte) up for more cash. Judy (Tori Hall), on the other hand, wants to surprise her girlfriend, Helen (Lauren Kirby), for her birthday. The motivations are different, I suppose, yet they're similar in that they're about needing to connect.
In some ways, I suppose, Split Costs could be considered your standard issue road trip. It feels like a typical road trip, or at least one I would make, with Emma's Ford Focus being in not particularly good shape and the subsequent conversations that occur on the road trip ranging from shallow and meaningless to words filled with anger and frustration to those that seem to drop the defensiveness with which both young women have seemingly learned to live their lives. It's never quite clear if they will become actual friends, though over the course of their trip it seems apparent that even those from disparate backgrounds can have an awful lot in common.
This kind of film within the span of 24-minutes can be a disaster. It's to the credit of Palmer that Split Costs is not a disaster. I tend to despise the phrase "slice-of-life," yet this really is a slice-of-life film that presents with honesty and intelligence those moments in our lives that either move us forward or set us back.
We get to decide.
I realized as I was finishing up this review that I had referred to Mela Hudson as simply "Mela" when I began writing about her performance as Emma, a strong indicator of the honesty and vulnerability she brings to Emma. I felt like I knew her and we were on a first-name basis. I wasn't completely surprised by Emma's traumatic experience, yet I was completely absorbed by Hudson's portrayal of it. One scene, in particular, is extraordinary yet the drama of it all doesn't disrupt the flow of the film.
Tori Hall is tasked with portraying the decidedly less dramatic character, Judy, whose conflicts are more internal and whose vulnerability is more subtle. Hall brings this to life beautifully and adds such an emotional depth that she perfectly parallel's Hudson's more externally focused performance. Together, they almost feel like Thelma and Louise. Don't worry, no cliffs are involved.
Split Costs is set for its world premiere in July at Portland, Maine's Bluestocking Film Series. Having already been submitted to quite a few film festivals, I have no doubt it will find its place on the indie film festi circuit. You can follow the film on Twitter - @SplitCosts.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic