Nancy, Please – Tribeca Film Festival Movie Review

The wonderful life of the Yale graduate student turns into a purgatory of dysfunctional relationships in this Tribeca dark comedy.

New Director/writer Andrew Semans comes busting out of the gate with the world premiere of his hyper-edgy psychodrama “Nancy, Please” at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Featured in the TFF World Narrative Competition, this film will be sure to provide the slate with competition.

Black Reel Award winner Novella Nelson plays Dr. Bannister, Paul’s flummoxed faculty advisor. The good doctor does everything a tenured Yale professor at the top of her game can do to get Paul moving, but nothing works. Paul (Will Rogers) is a Yale graduate student, one of the best and the brightest, stuck in a time warp on the cusp of adulthood.

He must finish his doctoral thesis and this pressure is rapidly becoming the focal point of his life. The completion of the degree requirements is not only work, it is an acceptance of growing up, becoming an adult and accepting adult responsibilities.

Paul has moved out of the small house he shared with Nancy. He has moved in with his partner and possible future wife Jen. Unpacking his books, he notices that his dog-eared and treasured copy of “Little Dorrit” is missing. He filled the profound social documentary with margin notes that were to fuel his thesis.

Without the book and the notes he is as helpless as Sampson without his hair. He has left the book behind, in the house now occupied by his former roommate, the curiously cold and flinty Nancy. In spite of his repeated voice messages, she has taken no action to return the book. She has not refused to return it. In fact, she has barely spoken to Paul. It is just that nothing happens. This sets up the nominal story.

In this void of action and emotion, Paul’s imagination sets in. The strength of the film is that the audience is as much in the dark as Paul. Nancy is acting in an irrational manner. She and Paul did not have a romantic relationship—the screenplay denies us that explanation.

Her irrationality is rubbing off on Paul, and us, at the same time. We are drawn into this horrific world of non-communication, together. It is a world of zero social interaction populated by humans who desperately need that interaction. We need to give and to receive and things are not working that way.

About halfway through the film it becomes apparent that there are other forces at play, including Paul’s refusal to do further work on his thesis until he gets the book. Paul and Nancy have bonded into an unholy union of intellectual paralysis. The ultimate dysfunctional relationship, their union is a repulsive magnetic force that is slowly unhinging Paul.

Writer/Director Andrew Semans (co-written with Will Heinrich) refused to take the familiar trope of prolonged adolescence in the usual direction. This story is not about the lovable, cuddly little boy who grows up with the help of the loving mother-substitute whom he marries and shares a happy life. Instead, it is a rather dark film. Pail is being called to task and he is not doing the right thing. He must, as the director puts it, “Grow up, or be torn to ribbons.”

Nobody is actually torn to ribbons in the film, although Paul is not granted the usual easy out by the screenplay. For his refusal to move beyond his imagined impotence he is subjected to a debtors’ prison of humiliation and self-imposed social exile. Eventually he breaks the law and is reduced to an urban hermit, creeping about, nursing his horrible secret like Andy Serkis’ Gollum. He is left twisting in the wind, unable to see what went wrong.

Rebecca Lawrence does a good job of playing Paul’s girlfriend Jen who echoes Dr. Bannister’s bafflement at Paul’s sudden leaden creativity. She is the voice of reason in an unreasonable world. Although her advice is sound and logical, it cannot address the irrational relationship of Paul and Nancy.

Nancy (Eleonore Hendricks) appears only in the last half of the film. Semans and Heinrich do a good job of introducing her only as a voice in the beginning. She sounds perfectly normal. Of course, in horror films all those liver-eaters sound perfectly normal. Look at Hannibal lector.

Shot in an around New York City, the filmmakers do a good job replicating the New Haven setting. Great cinematography by Eric Lin (“Missing” with director Kit Hui and “The Exploding Girl”) and great editing by Ron Dulin. Well-paced, tense and an entertaining change from the everyday film experience.

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Directed by: Andrew Semans
Written by: Andrew Semans and Will Heinrich
Starring: Novella Nelson, Rebecca Lawrence and Eleonore Hendricks
Release Date: NA—Tribeca Film Festival
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color