Short movies–under ninety minutes–are having a creative resurgence of late. I’m thinking primarily of Ed Burns’s Looking for Kitty as the model (and it was well under ninety), but The Oh in Ohio is another fine example. The way the filmmakers keep Ohio short is very interesting. They end the movie during the last five or six minutes of the second act. There is no third act. There’s a lot of suggestion to what might be coming in the third act, even foreshadowing to a pleasantly surprising, comedic ending, but it isn’t in the film. There are a handful of fade-to-black scene transitions and when the last one came, I was not expecting the film to end. It was a deft–a term I’ve only used one other time here on The Stop Button–unexpected narrative move and nothing in The Oh in Ohio prepared me for it.
There’s very little in the way narrative drive–there’s an abject lack of conflict after the first act–and I kept waiting for a crisis needing resolution and one never arrived. In some ways, the film summarizes instead of plays out in scene, but has enough solid scenes going to give the illusion they’re where the most important events are playing out. Or it might not be deft and the screenwriters just got lucky. Either way, it’s interesting because for a narrative to play out in the traditional structure only to stop, canceling its traditional trajectory, raises a lot of questions about where a story should in terms of creating the fullest experience. The Oh in Ohio could have tacked on another fifteen to twenty-five minutes and it would never have ended quite as well. Because romantic comedies–and The Oh in Ohio is a romantic comedy–tend to have their own pattern and they don’t do it for narrative quality but because romantic comedies really only have seventy or eighty minutes worth of story and they need push it so people won’t dismiss them for running under ninety (or ninety-five, ninety-five sounds more respectable still). So The Oh in Ohio shows cutting and closing sooner, on a high point, might be the way to go. I can think of one or two romantic comedies right now with too long endings, where cutting earlier would have worked better.
Other than its narrative innovation (or possible innovation, I’ll check with the patent office), The Oh in Ohio’s got Parker Posey and she’s excellent, but it’s also got a great Paul Rudd performance. Rudd frequently disappoints, but not in this film. Danny DeVito’s good, so is Keith David. Liza Minnelli has a fantastic cameo.
The laugh-out-loud comedy scenes mix well with the not-laugh-out-loud ones and there’s still the traditional narrative going on to hold things together. I also use the word “quirky” sparingly (though, apparently, three times to date), but The Oh in Ohio is a quirky film and I feel like I shouldn’t have had to remember on my own. Someone else should have been talking about it.*
* I have a feeling they were not, because when I went to go to look for DVD reviews, I found four. Apparently, the superstars at HBO Home Video decided to pan and scan the Panavision frame to an HD-friendly 1.85:1, which really bothered me during the scenes when the framing was so obviously off–like when a car drove off frame but was still audible and the scene didn’t cut until it had time to traverse (out of frame, obviously) the rest of the shot.
Directed by Billy Kent; screenplay by Adam Wierzbianski, from a story by Sarah Bird, Kent and Wierzbianski; director of photography, Ramsey Nickell; edited by Paul Bertino and Michael R. Miller; music by Bruno Coon; production designer, Martina Buckley; produced by Miranda Bailey, Francey Grace and Amy Salko Robertson; released by Cyan Pictures.
Starring Parker Posey (Priscilla Chase), Danny DeVito (Wayne the Pool Guy), Miranda Bailey (Sherri), Paul Rudd (Jack Chase), Keith David (Coach Popovitch), Tim Russ (Douglas), Mischa Barton (Kristen Taylor), Liza Minnelli (Alyssa Donahue), Robert John Burke (Binky Taylor) and Heather Graham (Justine).