Monday, April 23, 2012

Just Get Up! — Part Time Fabulous, at the Julien Dubuque Int'l Film Festival

"JUST GET UP!" Is brute shouting going to help? We know in our gut that it won't. 


DEMAND ON VIEWER: Moderate-High (mature/difficult theme)
OVERALL: Highly Recommended

Part Time Fabulous Trailer

Director Alethea Root's film is a penetrating, honest, and hopeful exploration of clinical depression. This is a solid, well-told story that feels like looking into a neighbor's window, and yet has a poetic rhythm that moves very deeply and stays with the viewer long afterward.

One cannot find any hope or cure of depression with a superficial, artificial, or surfacy treatment of it. And that is the challenge for anyone who loves a depressed person, because the level of commitment and empathy and calm discipline required will not come easy and may just as likely destroy a relationship.

Mel (Jules Bruff) is a charming, beautiful, intelligent woman, with many obvious prospects for love and happiness in life. As is always the case with depression, subjectively it does not seem that way to her. Ms. Bruff gives a very vulnerable portrayal of the fragility we all feel when interviewing or auditioning (she practices saying "Unique New York" over and over in the car in a futile effort to improve herself at the last minute). Mel has post-vacation blues, post-audition blues, post-father-figure-problem blues. These are things everyone goes through, so it is tempting to brush off depression with well-meaning advice and overly chirpy questions.

As anyone with any exposure to depression knows the real problem is at root genetic. But rather than stop at making this clinical distinction, the film goes on to explore Mel's character flaws, if not as causes of her depression, then certainly as blocks to recovering from it. 

For example, Mel promises to take medication, go running, or get up in the morning. But she seems trapped in a loop where she simply cannot follow through. This drives Don (Bjørn Johnson) mad, understandably. Even her choice of Don, with his own (borderline?) addictive behaviors, is a mirroring and a projection of a self that Mel will have to move beyond if she is to recover. 

Eventually Mel is able to call forth within herself what is required to change. But what was the trigger? How did Mel click on, after the preceding series of excruciating events? The film leaves the viewer to ponder this question.

A seminal moment in the film comes when Dr. Carr (Blake Robbins) asks Mel, "Is worry love?" She is shocked by the question and realizes she has never really distinguished between the two. Dr. Carr represents a cleaner and more lucid world for her. We are left with the impression, though unresolved, that Mel will find herself with him or someone quite like him.

Another highly effective device is the use of real-life interviews with people who are themselves clinically depressed. This broadens the scope and impact of the film, and makes it almost feel like a documentary. A risky thing to try as it might have made the narrative choppy, but it seems to work well here.

So why the title, "Part Time Fabulous"? We are all in some sense double-mask people. We have one persona at home and another in public, one mask with our lover or spouse, another with our boss. So in some sense we by nature are bound to be part-time. Perhaps the lack of acceptance of this reality is also part of the culprit behind depression, as our production and success-oriented culture teach us neither to respect our own limits nor be empathetic about someone else's.

Part Time Fabulous is a full time joy to watch. It is a work of art, and was a highlight of the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.  Here's to its continued success, and to the courageous people suffering from depression who stand to be helped by this remarkable film.

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