Sam Evoy’s Cornflower stars Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) and Carla Oudin (Trainwreck) in a two-hander about a young man who has to gently convey devastating news to his little sister without actually telling her the tragic truth. What unfolds is a subtle and poignant drama about the ineptitude of language in shielding a loved one from the consequences of a traumatic event. Despite the care taken, the things that cannot be said shimmer through all the same, deepening the connection between two siblings.
The film completely relies on the director’s perceptive script and the outstanding performances from both actors. Jeremy Allen White captures his character’s shiftlessness perfectly, the lingering sadness hinted at constantly in his weary eyes. Without taking anything away from his layered, pointed embodiment of the older brother, it is his co-star, Carla Oudin, who commands every facet of her unpretentious yet difficult role and delivers one of the most outstanding performances I’ve ever seen from an actor her age.
On paper, the film shouldn’t work as well as it does. At the heart of the film is a sober conversation between two people, while most of what their interaction is ostensibly about is left unspoken—hidden between the lines. Their dialogue obviously follows a tragedy with enormous emotional weight, but the film doesn’t need to utilize the situation for showy purposes. The brilliance of Cornflower emerges from the delicate performances, measured script and reserved direction, powered by a meaningful understanding of the experience of grief.
As writer/director Sam Evoy explains:
“I chose to write and direct Cornflower because I wanted to start conversations about mental health. I wanted to explore loss, particularly death by suicide, in a way that did not place blame on the family members but rather looked at how people can come together in the moments that change us. My goal was to subtly tell a story about suicide, without exploiting the tragedy.“
There’s no easy way to talk about the topic of suicide. The devastating fact is that in America (where Cornflower set) it is on the rise, and while the process leading up to taking one’s own life is in each case unique and often incomprehensible, this general mental health crisis deserves more discussion and serves as the larger backdrop for the film. Yet Cornflower is about something more specific. In its restrained tone, the film focuses on the literal and figurative loss for words in the aftermath of suicide and perfectly captures the inherent helplessness.
How are you supposed to explain such a tragedy when you can’t even really make sense of it yourself? It’s never easy to talk about death, let alone to a child. But suicide? It’s a gruesome situation that’s hard to fathom. When a person decides to takes their own life, everything leading up to it grows out of a deep sense of desperation and loss of hope. It’s an all-encompassing darkness that takes over everything else, with no regards to how it might effect those left behind.
Friends and relatives have to deal with an infinite amount of unanswered questions. While going through the usual stages of grief, they try to make sense of a situation that is, ultimately, unexplainable. You have to go on with your life, despite the scar that will never heal. That’s the great paradox after someone dies, which is even worse in the aftermath of suicide: Everything’s the same, but everything has changed.
Sam Evoy’s Cornflower has the intelligence and courage to express all of these feelings without talking about any of it explicitly. All of these emotions are at the core of the film’s reluctant protagonist and in Jeremy Allen White’s acting. Through its minimalistic, deliberate storytelling, Cornflower manages to become one of the most accurate depictions of the impotence following a tragedy such as suicide.
All of this is an even more remarkable feat when you consider that Cornflower is Sam Evoy’s directorial debut, after working as a script supervisor on feature films such as Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and the TV series FBI. Evoy says that “as a professional script supervisor, I have many friends, colleagues, and mentors who have taught me, inspired me, pushed me, and ultimately helped me to create films of my own.“ She is currently in post-production on her second film.
If you or someone you know feels hopeless or like they have no reason to live, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help and support 1-800-273-8255.