Tipper Newton’s Wild Card takes what would be an insane first Tinder date and translates it to late-80s/early-90s neo-noir greatness. The 13-minute short film follows two disparate strangers, Daniel, a lonely mellow dude and Toni, a bad ass femme fatale, as they go on a date. Well, it’s only “sort of” a date, after Toni cops out early with the slick “if we went and saw a movie we wouldn’t get to know each other” line – a seemingly romantic gesture, but actually the red herring of selfish intentions.
At first, it’s hysterical to see an imagined video dating service from decades ago, but upon reflection you’d have to question whether we’ve actually moved backwards. Personally, I’d vouch for videotapes over a deck of selfies and two word bios any day. In any case, Daniel ignores Toni’s red flags, which is probably a habit that will never die.
Vivid reds, zebra print, satin – Wild Card’s colors and textures are indulgent. I found myself gazing at the frames like paintings, only to have the zooms and jump-cuts seamlessly snap me right back into the story. Inspired by her love of retro neo-noirs and erotic thrillers, writer/director Newton’s filmmaking is so unique because it cheekily reinstates tried and true film tactics of the 80s, while maintaining a contemporary quality. The melodramatic performances also feel like they’re giving a knowing wink to the era. This formula is masterful yet playful and flirty.
What really deserves a standing ovation is the artistic direction at play. I’m more enticed by the mise-en-scene than I am invested in Toni and Daniel’s budding romance. I’m drawn to the details of the props and set dressing: the neon signs, old cameras and tvs, landlines, leopard print carpet, heavy orange drapes, a red pinup lamp, VHS tapes. The places Wild Card takes us feel authentic, like perfectly preserved and functional time capsules. I’d be a homebody if my room looked anything like Toni’s.
I’m not alone in feeling this way either, as Tipper admits she loves “how old televisions, camcorders, and VCR consoles look” and has a thing for convertibles, so she “was excited to have those items play a major role in the film”. The director also admits that “it would be so cool to have a waterbed” and I totally agree. Sometimes I really wish I was alive during the waterbed era, but watching this scratches that itch perfectly.
Shot on 16mm over the course of two weekends, in Los Angeles, Wild Card is Newton’s second short in as many years. With her previous film, The Dangerous Type, also serving-up a slice of her distinct nostalgic filmmaking style, she’s now writing a feature film and we’re obviously excited to see what she can do with a much longer run-time at her disposal.