Between Two Valleys (Short Film)

28 Apr

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Between Two Valleys” is a short film that was made for the 2018 Kansas City 48-Hour Film Project Competition. A filmmaking team enters the contest, picks a random genre, and has 48 hours to make a film with the selected genre. Director Joshua Leonard of YouTube’s Blue Boy Cinema drew “High School Drama,” which…honestly, is just too easy.

You know what’s not so easy? Making a COMEDY based on high school drama. Hmm…how about parodying high-school melodramatic tropes?? And so, Leonard and his co-writer Sarah McGuire (who also co-stars in the film) crafted a witty, bitingly satirical script based on your typical teenage-house-party scene–and their team put together a hilarious short as a result.

“Between Two Valleys” is supposed to be an episode of your usual TV teen drama, complete with a colorful intro (which includes the actors looking to the camera and smiling with their credits on display), a brief recap to show where the characters are in this stage, and a “To Be Continued…” that I honestly hope gets continued some day. (I know I keep getting ahead of myself–sue me, I love this short.)

One of the subtle jokes that went over my head upon first viewing is the use of the film’s cast. I had a chat with one of the actresses recently and mentioned her appearance in the film. She responded, “[‘Between Two Valleys’] makes me laugh because we’re all clearly in our 30s!” She had a point–none of the “teens” in this film were played by teens; so I had to wonder if this was Leonard’s commentary on how most teen soap operas that this film parodies don’t feature actual teenage talent. (Or maybe they just didn’t have any younger members on their 48-Hour team.) The cast members of “Between Two Valleys,” which include McGuire, Nicole Hall, Eric Boedeker, Heather Elaine, and Jeff Smith certainly look young…but not that young. Therefore, they’re perfect for this material.

The film’s main trio of best friends are a bookish wallflower girl named Janie (Hall), a shy nerd named Noah (Boedeker), and an artistic smartmouth named Ellie (McGuire). There’s a party at Ellie’s house, where Janie hopes to get with the popular jock Billy (Smith) who is currently dating the class snob Val (Elaine) and Noah is pressured to come out of his shell. I wished there was more for Ellie to do, since Sarah McGuire brings a great sense of wit to her role and has a lot of funny lines as well (one of which is a meta reference to the typical “high school drama” cliches)–but there’s only so much a short film can have in 7 minutes (a running time that was one of 48-Hour’s main requirements).

Oh, and there’s also Ellie’s mother Eileen (Christie Courville), whose role in the film I’m not even going to begin to describe to you–let me just say that her resolution upon first viewing had me laughing on the floor! (It’s tough enough to review a comedy because there’s only so many times I can say, “That’s funny!” To review a short comedy is even tougher.)

It looks like all of the actors had a real good time making this film (and Heather Elaine’s final line of dialogue cracks me up each time), and Leonard and his crew weren’t lazy in making it either. It’s very well-made, with a great tracking shot that introduces us to the party and the guests–credit for that goes to cinematographer Nicholaus James. It goes to show a dedicated team of artists can make a quality piece of work in just 48 hours.

“Between Two Valleys” is almost three years old, and so, any amount of hopes for a continuation of this story is a bit much at this point. But you take what you can get. This is a funny story all by itself. It’s well-made, gamely acted, and sharply written.

The film is available on YouTube. Check it out here.

Note: “Between Two Valleys” won an award in the 2018 48-Hour competition: Best Ensemble Cast.

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