There are some pretty odd couples out there. For example, after a quick search, I now know of a man who married the corpse of his girlfriend and a woman who tied the knot with the Eiffel tower (isn’t the internet wonderful?). But the unusual union of a widow and her plant will certainly add a twist to any family tree. Add to that a deeply rooted jealous streak in the potted protagonist, and you’ve got the basic plot of Johnny Kelly’s Fern. But the 6min dark comedy, commissioned by Channel 4’s Random acts and starring BAFTA winner Monica Dolan doesn’t beat around the bush. It charms the audience with a deceptively simple narrative, whilst masterfully pulling on the heartstrings by personifying our desperate need for comfort in time of grief. The result is surprisingly touching and thoroughly delightful.
A recently widowed woman finds a withered houseplant. As she nurtures it back to life the plant, in turn, helps her get over the loss of her husband. Soon, a strong bond is formed between the two, with deadly consequences. Directed by Johnny Kelly (Back to the Start), who has proven that his talents stretch well beyond the medium of animation, Fern is a playful gem of a short, with just the right amount of dark undertones to make you feel uncomfortable laughing at.
Kelly admits: “I am bad at plants. This story is straight from the brain of a guilt-addled plant owner — in fact, three malnourished, under-watered plants glare at me as I write this. My wife on the other hand is a natural, and one fern in particular always seems to be touching me wherever I sit in our flat. Catching my arm, snagging on my jeans. One day, I wondered whether the plant and my wife might be happier without me? And that’s where this idea came from”.
There is so much to love about this short. From the first time we hear the houseplant yelp, as its owner plucks the wilted leaves, to the sequence showing it lovingly taking care of her (with the sushi scene my clear favourite) – the comedy is top notch, edging towards but never falling into sketchy waters. Monica Dolan’s performance is spot on too. How she managed to keep a straight face as a puppet plant brushed her hair is anyone’s guess.
But Fern digs deeper and there are serious themes rooted beneath the clever humour, great lead performance and entertaining narrative. They touch on the fragility of the human mind and how we deal with grief – “I wanted to show how we all find comfort and look for affection in odd places, even if it’s a figment of our imagination. They’re both pretty vulnerable at the start of the film and I liked the idea of charting how they feed off each other, and nurse one another back to to health. I would hope that viewers feel happy and sad, and maybe a little bit queasy, while watching it” Kelly explains.
The director certainly achieves what he set out to do and by choosing to personify grief, he has added real weight to his comedy. And yes, I realise it’s a plant, not a person but I happen to think that this particular shrub has more personality than most characters on our screens, be they human or otherwise.
Johnny Kelly has written another short film script, which explores similar themes of isolation and paranoia, but a distinct lack of foliage. He is super excited about it, and is currently petitioning people to cough up cash, so stay tuned for more info!