Cultural watchdogs taking notes from both sides of Oscar’s problem with representation this year can probably breathe a little easier knowing that there’s at least one category that won’t automatically bring shame, or (if you prefer) confirmation bias, upon the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Unfortunately, it’s going to happen in a category where one of the nominees focusing solely on white characters isn’t only the most compelling piece of filmmaking in the lineup, but also doubles down on the peculiar schizophrenia of the whole reactionary mess, albeit obliquely.
Everything Will Be Okay, from director Patrick Vollrath, depicts a father’s day of unsupervised visitation with his daughter following an evidently messy divorce from which his ex-wife has clearly recovered. It isn’t a few seconds inside a toy store before audiences will start to realize just what the girl’s dad has up his sleeve. The film operates for most of its tense running time within the same child-in-peril parameters of many a recent failed contender from this category (among them Just Before Losing Everything and Miracle Fish), though with a clearer sense of dread, conveyed expertly by both the Teutonic Louis C.K. lookalike playing the father and the girl who has to negotiate her way through a mounting, terrifying surge of cognitive dissonance.
But in its excruciatingly prolonged climactic confrontation, Everything Will Be Okay reveals as much about the desperate ego—indeed, the dangerously misguided delusion of disenfranchisement—of masculinity in crisis as any demographic breakdown of the AMPAS’s voting body ever could. The cut-to-black absence of any comforting denouement won’t just give many voters dramatic blue balls; it’ll force them to stare down some ugly acuities that they’re quite frankly in no mood to entertain this year.
Expect at least a few voters to instead run toward the safety of Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer, a fleeting O. Henry Hallmark-card commercial for the right-swiping set—perhaps even more voters than the rather wispy, inconsequential love story actually deserves, since its lack of menace stands virtually alone and unopposed in this field. Ultimately, though, Oscar has preferred to reward the lovelorn travails of cute skinny white dudes when they’re more boho-mopey and film-school virtuosic (Luke Matheny’s God of Love and Shawn Christensen’s Curfew).
That leaves three war-torn propositions on the table, each more cringingly schematic than the last. Shok’s Jamie Donoughue pours it on extra thick, like a demented Vittorio De Sica referencing the most shameless elements of Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves. In the thick of the Kosovo War, one corpulently self-assured boy convinces his waifish best (and only) friend to join him as he crosses enemy lines to sell merchandise to belligerents, an arrangement that works in their favor precisely once before costing the recruited boy his bicycle, and the would-be master negotiator his family’s safety. Burdened by a flashback structure that pays off in only the most bludgeoning way, Shok’s chances are more seriously hampered by the fact that, well, it’s harder for voters to make a cheap statement when said conflict wrapped up during the Clinton Years: Book One.
Better to bet on either Henry Hughes’s Day One, an Ordet-pilfering sermon that doubles serviceably as a U.S. Armed Forces recruitment commercial, or Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont’s Ave Maria, a smirking comedy in which an Israeli couple crashes into a convent in Palestinian territory and the two sides are forced to improvise a solution that won’t offend either side’s faith. Both condescendingly poke holes in religious customs—Ave Maria’s Jews can’t operate the phone during Shabbat to contact a taxi cab, and the nuns can’t break their vow of silence—while endorsing purportedly secular ones, first and foremost reiterating: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Day One, which was directed by a former army paratrooper, naïvely believes every injustice in the world can be unknotted with the proverbial switch-flicking solitary gesture of goodwill. But odds continue to favor the snarkiest candidate in this category, so we’re predicting it’ll be West Bank Story all over again. Especially since, until such time as Cheryl Boone Isaacs can purge the Academy of voters who can still remember being bounced on Irving Thalberg’s knee, goofy nuns and bulldog-faced Jewish mothers will continue to represent that thin line between crowd-pleasing and smug pandering.
Will Win: Ave Maria
Could Win: Day One
Should Win: Everything Will Be Okay
Editor’s Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 30. For locations, click here.