I’ve yet to see Madeleine Olnek’s first Sundance kissed short Hold Up, but if it’s even a shadow of the comedy Countertransference is, then no explanations are necessary as to why Olnek is racking up festival awards and screening selections like they’re going out of style.
Countertransference, as I know from my boozy stint as a psychology undergrad, results when a therapist transfers their unconscious feelings to a patient. I highly recommend daily sessions with HBO’s In Treatment if you’re in need of a visual reference. However in the skillful hands of Olnek, it’s a means by which sheepish and assertively challenged New Yorker Carla Carthrop is trapped in a less than ideal job at a junk store—where loyal service will be rewarded with a step down to the basement and with a therapist who’s techniques for confronting unconscious suicidal tendencies or transference could be called questionable to say the least.
I’m often cynical about comedy shorts. Even allowing for taste or cultural differences, most filmmakers out there are too quick to jump to the defense of not ‘getting it’ when the laughs fail to materialize instead of looking to a weak script and even weaker gags. However Olnek’s chops as a playwright are evident from the painful awkwardness of Countertransference’s situations and perfectly exploits the power imbalance present in all worker/boss, patient/therapist relationships that even the brave and bold find difficult to transcend. Did I laugh? Yes, often and hard. If you find yourself lacking even the hint of a smile throughout Countertransference’s 15 minute running time, I suggest you seek some professional help.