Directed by Ellie Heydon and written by lead actress Lucy Heath, the ultimate extension of online dating; an institute where young graduates are algorithmically matched and partake in a series of intense compatibility assessments to find them their perfect ‘life partner’. Also starring: Phil Dunster, Nick Mohammed, Sid Sagar, Amanda Hale and James Dryden.
When Pragma opens, it’s hard not to make an immediate comparison to Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, following single people throwing themselves into a programme to find a partner, just without the darkly twisted consequences. They are similar in the sense of dealing with love in a practical, logical and fairly cold manner. However, it also attempts to blend that with a classic awkward humour which ironically, isn’t a perfect match. Surprisingly, while the comedy element feels insincere, the layers beneath discussing the value and meaning of relationships is much stronger. It calls into question whether the shorter term, messy relationships are worth experiencing or if we should always be looking for the end game. In a world of technology and increasing casual or flexible attitudes, it’s an interesting question and very worth exploring. To the point that when it reaches its finale, and the humour is set aside, it’s unexpectedly touching.
One of the issues which stands in the way of building a more sincere atmosphere is the score. It’s practically slapstick in the way that it denotes each scene, being heavy-handed and a touch distracting. However, a huge strength of its visual is the choice of location, there’s a certain anonymity to it which escapes any speculation about where or when it’s set. The sets themselves also have a great minimalism, letting the focus remain strong on the story while adding an air of authority. There’s a good use of colour and space, all of which adds up to solid direction throughout.
Performance wise, it’s slightly more difficult to judge, that use of awkward comedy is basically a staple of British cinema but given that it’s not very effective, knocks the portrayals down slightly. That said, there is the immediate chemistry that they’re going for between Lucy Heath and Phil Dunster. Lucy Heath does a great job of creating a central point for this story and does well to reveal the different layers to her character with each individual pairing. Dunster creates an interesting character in that the first impression you get from him evolves into something else, sparking a curiosity or doubt which is satisfying to watch. Nick Mohammed is a sweetheart of British film and television, making beloved and memorable appearances for over fifteen years, so you always know what you’re getting with him. Sid Sagar, Amanda Hale and James Dryden then round out the cast very well, each has something different to bring and all further the story.
Pragma makes an interesting comment about approaching relationships instinctively versus logically. Asking whether the decision of commitment should be based on the connection you have with another person or if they’re going to turn into a lifelong partner. Its use of humour tries a little too hard and doesn’t work very well, it cuts off a lot of the genuine feeling to it. However, as it approaches its end, a sincerity sneaks its way through and pulls everything together in a satisfying manner. It’s well directed, acted and edited, the only other outlier is a misused score.