“What’s your type?” Now that we’re no longer in the ’90s, that question is almost guaranteed to cause embarrassment, or outright offence, as it reduces people to basic, and often stereotypical categories. Yet, as outdated as the concept of being sexually attracted to a set of skin-deep attributes is, being in a cross-cultural romantic relationship in this day and age still seems to raise uncomfortable questions. But what happens if these questions bubble up inside the people in the actual relationship? Find out in the disarmingly funny Tall Dark and Handsome.
One of my favourite alums, Sam Baron (The Orgy, ), returns to S/W, and with a cracking script and unparalleled ability to illuminate his characters’ vulnerabilities, his direction is stronger and more compelling than ever. Created with long-time collaborator and lead actor Amit Shah (The Orgy, ), after the two were discussing their first-hand experience of interracial relationships, the thirteen-minute dramedy completes the trilogy of short films delving into modern masculinity in crisis. Tall Dark and Handsome serves up a hilarious commentary on fetishism, self-sabotage and everything in between, and the result is a flawless recipe that simultaneously tickles the taste buds and pulls on the heartstrings.
The story follows Varun (Shah) and his partner Ellie (Laura Aikman) – a recently engaged couple expecting a baby. Their seemingly blissful relationship, however, is suddenly put to the test when they bump into Ellie’s ex and Varun learns that he’s not exactly her first Indian boyfriend. Far from it…
“This is a very personal story for us.” – Baron and Shah shared with S/W. “We immediately saw a way to escalate the scenario to an outrageous degree, to stir up provocative questions and take the audience to uncomfortable edges, whilst always rooting the comedy and the drama in truthful dynamics, insecurities and vulnerabilities that we each knew intimately. We wanted to make people laugh, while also raising complex questions about race, and why we choose the partners we do.”
Baron certainly reaps the benefits of the fertile comedy ground that is the film’s premise and there are some excellent belly-laugh-inducing lines, one of my favourites being, “Three is a pattern, five is a racial fetish”. But the film’s real brilliance is in the subtle narrative shift from the lighthearted dissection of the complexities of relationships between people from different backgrounds to something much darker and more relatable – our extraordinary ability to sabotage the happiest parts of our lives.
Shah delivers a superb performance as the doubt-ridden and painfully insecure Varun. You can practically see the first, tiny cracks appear in his mind when Ellie tells him she used to date Kiran. Aikman is also brilliant as Ellie, a woman entering her third trimester suddenly having to make sense of her boyfriend’s strange and spiralling behaviour. And it’s a slow but steady descent from here on out, as we find ourselves witnessing something seemingly unbreakable fall apart. This tonal shift is as unexpected as it is necessary in order to elevate the characters from funny and entertaining to flawed and compelling, making the end of their story all the more heartbreaking to watch.
Baron and Shah didn’t invent the comedy of stiff, British awkwardness but with Tall Dark and Handsome, they have levelled up the game by finessing it into an art form that touches the soul. And like any great piece of art, it will stand the test of time. Something tells me we’ll be seeing plenty more of this duo.