An anthology of films created in the homes of award-winning filmmakers and actors throughout the pandemic. A few of the creators include: Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Rosie Perez, Rebecca Hall, Sanaa Lathan, Carla Gugino, Adrianne Palicki, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson, and Chris Cooper. Each family created their own story armed with an iPhone and a basic filmmaking kit that travelled across the country from family to family.
Watching people get creative against huge limitations is always entertaining, and the pandemic created that challenge for many. However, in the case of With/In some filmmakers got a bit more inventive than others. Filmed in the pandemic with each tackling different incarnations of lockdown and isolation, the themes are unsurprisingly consistent, it’s probably never been easier for an anthology to be so on the same page. The quality of each short is a different story, they’re hugely varied and some are extremely superior to others. There’s also a huge inherent issue with longevity, these films made sense when we were experiencing the same thing but now that we’ve moved forward (mostly), do we need the three hour plus reminder of our experiences? The answer’s probably no for almost everyone, so it restricts the success of this anthology, at least for the time being.
The key highlight and example of filmmakers who really embraced taking these themes and twisting them into something more entertaining is Morgan Spector and Maya Singer’s Mother!!. It uses the isolation and obsession which came out of the lockdown experience to play into classic horror tones. They don’t take it too seriously but they do also do a fantastic job, and luckily for viewers Spector is married to the intensely talented Rebecca Hall whose performance, alongside Singer’s is superb. Rosie Perez’s Coco and Gigi is another highlight, it’s grounded and heartfelt but also sweet and funny. Perez and Justina Machado have a very convincing sibling chemistry and the constant move between humour, drama, banter and tears is moving.
Unfortunately, the majority of the shorts can’t live up to that quality, while there are some great actors at work, particularly Julianne Moore and Talia Balsam, the writing lets them down. It plays too simply into the themes, it doesn’t add enough of a unique or surprising edge, and some of those that do, don’t play out convincingly. One Night Stand from Griffin Dunne in particular feels a touch too ridiculous to work, using quite a dark plot but playing it out like a Woody Allen romance, it’s a harsh clash. It feels as though a number of the filmmakers taking part took the assignment a little too literally and didn’t move far enough outside the box.
Originally cut into two volumes, the first is vastly superior to the second, and put together the runtime gets too long. Being hit over and over with the reminders, and potentially triggers, of the height of the pandemic, is not the most enjoyable experience at the moment. Especially when a few of the shorts, such as I’m Listening or Still Life feel much longer than they need to be. As well as Touching feeling completely extraneous, it has precious little to add to the mix and has such a cutesy, saccharine tone that it’s not enjoyable at all.
With/In is a great concept, combining a vast mix of talented filmmakers in a creative challenge, but as with any films, some of them are simply better than others. Being short films, it does break up that long runtime slightly but it’s not enough to make the barrage of unpleasant reminders more palatable. It’s the type of film that would be better returned to a few years from now when the experience isn’t so fresh. However, if there were the option to solely watch Mother!! then it would definitely be recommended because watching people go mad over a sourdough starter is the perfect lockdown analogy.