The found-footage gimmick, almost exclusively tied to the horror genre, becomes repurposed as a modest twist on the romantic comedy in writer-director James E. Duff’s Hank and Asha, an impossibly lightweight film detailing a long-distance romance told through video messages. Asha (Mahira Kakkar) is a film student in Prague who, after being charmed by a documentary that screens at a local film festival, gets in touch with the film’s New York-based director, Hank (Andrew Pastides). The two quickly bond, due in part to these outsiders’ shared sense of loneliness (Asha is from India, while Hank hails from North Carolina). Hank and Asha’s video-message conceit, in which narrative is reduced to a series of monologues, suggests an intriguing portrait of the natural desire for human companionship filtered through the proliferation of modern technology, but Duff’s final product only hints at social commentary, instead presenting another rote meet cute stocked with shopworn caricatures.
As Hank and Asha is focused solely through the lens of the titular characters’ cameras, this limits the exploration of the film’s worldview outside of Hank and Asha’s perspective. Duff and co-writer Julia Morrison hardly create dialogue that isn’t in the service of character exposition, never leaving any mysteries to Hank or Asha’s personality. Abruptly dropped plot points, like the revelation that Hank’s stay in New York is causing family problems back home, come off as last-ditch efforts to keep the narrative flowing. And amusing nuances pertaining to the characters’ long-distance digital relationship, such as Hank reluctantly revealing that he’s just a lowly production assistant trying to make ends meet (which he wouldn’t care to admit after making a reasonably successful documentary), are suffocated amid endless character biography.
The film contains a slight level of audience participation in the sense that, as Hank and Asha speak directly into their cameras to each other, they are, in essence, speaking to us as well. A sort of pseudo-Brechtian quality emerges from this technique: As various feelings are expressed by the would-be lovers, which fluctuate between bittersweet and irritation once Asha reveals her true relationship status, the filmmakers create a purely confrontational approach through the raised stakes in Hank and Asha’s interactions, in the process manipulating audience emotions for their own maudlin purposes.