Written and directed by Chris M. Rutledge, Michael copes with his grief over dinner and a night of dancing with his girlfriend, Lynn. Starring: Jerrel O’Neal and Fana Minea Tesfagiorgis.
Coming to terms with loss is an intensely intimate topic to take on, the weight of it is then only made heavier by working with short film and basing the film on your own experiences, which is exactly what Chris M. Rutledge does with Date Nights. It’s a remarkable challenge to take on and you can feel the specific touches with the penchant for 1950s style and music. As well as in the way that the script itself moves, the patter to its dialogue which is on the poetic, sentimental and extremely affectionate side. Rutledge attempts to portray romance in a style of old Hollywood, there’s a formality and performance like aspect to it.
There’s a heartfelt tone but at the same time, it’s working with these poignant issues very beneath the surface which might not work for everyone. They’re bubbling away behind every move that Date Nights makes but without bringing them into the forefront, they can feel underserved. The style approaches deep emotion with a grace, not quite subtle but composed. Its progression feels like a tiny crack in glass that’s gradually widening but we never quite get to the final break. Visually it plays things understated and simple while working through Lynn’s (Fana Minea Tesfagiorgis) love of dance with a little bit of theatrical flare. Although there is a slight weakness in its sound, it’s missing a biting clarity to help push its emotion more strongly, and the music can overwhelm the scenes at times.
Jerrel O’Neal’s performance matches beat for beat with the style of the writing, it’s that building pressure of emotion which hasn’t been processed. He does a great job of portraying the struggle to find the next step, constantly retracing your steps from before your grief began. O’Neal adds a fractured quality which is balanced out by the openness and lightness that Tesfagiorgis brings. Her presence plays nicely with the blend of reality and memory. She has charm and sincerity, which helps to offset the heaviness that can come from O’Neal’s Michael.
Date Nights is a heartfelt portrayal of grief, it’s a tough challenge to dive so deep into your own life experiences. It can perhaps feel too contained at times, not quite letting the waves of emotion that are below the surface, get enough air. The way that it moves has the feel of performance, it’s structured and composed, it relaxes more towards the end but it would have been great to see it let loose Michael’s vulnerability and struggle further to do its poignancy justice.