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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

AFF '19: THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT is sweet and unique

The indie drama scene is full of quirky romances; that might even be how you define indie drama. There's a reason for it, obviously: relationships are hard, and are rarely as clean and defined as those seen in hollywood romances. The complex ins and outs of a new relationship are just about the deepest veins to mine as far as film subjects go, but rarely is a movie ambitious enough to try to explore so many of the most difficult parts, from identity to body image to sexuality.

That's where The Way You Look Tonight comes in. It starts as many modern romances to, with a young man (Peter, played by Nick Fink) setting up an online dating profile and finding a match. His first date with Ellie goes remarkably well, but she disappears without a word in the morning. A little heartbroken and frustrated, Peter tries again, and again, and while there are familiar things with the girls he dates, he can't get over Ellie. The movie takes a fantasy turn when it is revealed that all the girls he's matched up with have been Ellie, who is a changeling, one of a group of people that has recently come out to the world that changes bodies each night.

This is one of those concepts that is so rich with thematic content that it's hard to believe it hasn't already been done a million times. Because Ellie changes body type, ethnicity, and eventually even her sex, it really allows the film to explore the idea of love that transcends the physical body. Beyond that, it grapples with themes of self image and self harm, and on a larger scale how we define our own identity separated from our physical body. It's a really interesting setup that starts almost like an absurdist comedy but becomes something with much more depth as it goes on.

Most interesting is the structure of the film; once Ellie reveals herself to Peter, he gradually comes to understand how her nightly transformations work, and we seem to build to a happy ending about halfway through...right up until her first change into a male body. This really throws Peter for a loop and he has a difficult time getting used to it. This bit is refreshing in a way, since up to this point Peter has been almost unrealistically quick to accept this strange situation (he's kind of the perfect boyfriend), but then we discover his mild homophobia and the film kicks its dramatic side into full gear. Though he eventually overcomes his initial difficulties, it really pushes the idea of love going beyond any physical form.

My favorite thing about the film is the way it keeps expanding its world, showing the difficulties within the changeling community. They use a unique piece of clothing to identify themselves that they consistently wear, for example. On a bigger scale, they have a hard time with ID cards since their appearance changes, making it nearly impossible to keep a driver's license or passport. The concept feels fleshed out enough that it can hold the weight of the lofty topics the film wants to explore. It also doesn't hurt that the film is shot quite well, and I enjoyed the dreamy original score by Westray Tackett. The editing by Will Bryson and director John Cerrito (who also plays a small but important role in the film) is impressive for a feature directorial debut; it feels tight and concise, without a lot of the unnecessarily slow editing that plagues much of the indie genre.

All in all, The Way You Look Tonight is a gem of a film, one of those clever movies that you find hard to forget. I've found myself thinking about the idea long after the credits rolled, wondering about the further implications of life as a changeling and how Peter and Ellie's relationship might turn out. Its thought-provoking concept is bound to be a conversation starter and one that makes you truly think about what makes you, you.

The Way You Look Tonight is written and directed by John Cerrito and stars Nick Fink. Find out more about the film by visiting its Official Site.
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