Stars: Willa Fitzgerald, John Magaro Director: Dan Mirvish Producer/Distributor: Waterbug Eater Films
“Nobody knows it exists.”
The film responsible for Dan Mirvish winning the Best Director award at MANIFF 2022, 18 ½ is a comedy-drama dripped in paranoia involving the discovery of the missing duration of the infamous Nixon tapes.
The discoverer of the titular 18 ½ minutes is transcriber Connie (Willa Fitzgerald), who we see arriving for lunch with overly anxious reporter, Paul (John Magaro). Immediately, Paul echoes and mirrors the anxiety and paranoia of both Nixon and the political films of the era, whereas Connie doesn’t seem to resonate with the tension established by Paul.
Leaving the diner in pursuit of a suitably quieter and more private venue to play the tape footage, so begins the notion of a quest with a look over the shoulder now and again. Winding up at the Silver Sands Motel, hosted by Richard Kind’s eyepatch wielding Jack, the shift in focus subsequently transitions to that of Connie and Paul’s relationship, rather than the tapes. Poised in a paranoid race against time to play the tapes, the two leads are bombarded with unwanted encounters with utterly ridiculous and mildly extravagant characters along the way.
In the instance of shifting focus, 18 ½ is completely flipped on its head. Whilst Mirvish and 18 ½ could have pursued the political nature of the tapes, instead, the focus upon Connie and Paul’s developing relationship adjusts the film’s tone into a much more comedic one, much to the trademark style of Mirvish. Whilst the thrill of a political pursuit is always spectacular, there is a welcomed change in having the film focus explicitly on its two leads instead.
However, intensity is still at large in 18 ½, as the tapes and the surrounding intrigue and mystique still remain in the background. Mirvish is wonderfully masterful in capturing the audience’s attention with one thing, yet managing to keep them on their toes with another in a somewhat discrete manner.
Ultimately, 18 ½ is a completely bizarre film. One minute, the charming two leads are faced with bonkers supporting characters, yet also finding themselves involved with the biggest political scandal of all-time. 18 ½ will not be remembered or regarded as the greatest political-paranoia film of all-time, but it will be up there as a great alternative.
18 1/2 had its Manchester premiere at MANIFF 2022 on Friday 18th March.
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