It’s always a hard day’s night when shortly after the beginning of a film, you’ve begun to turn negatively towards it. Harshly so, even. Sujewa Ekanayake, the most prolific of independent filmmakers and most considerate of tweeters, will be releasing his latest effort, The Secret Society for Slow Romance, sometime in early 2022. With the large landscape of New York City, a very limited setting, and only two actors (himself included), his film I can only imagine will be a hard sell for tickets. Think of the diner scene from Death Proof but… longer. I’m sorry, but that’s what came to mind in the first half-hour of the film.
Remain vigilant and send out invitations to as many writers as possible. Cause a stir, as is said. This is how you win.
Indeed, Sujewa’s style does just that. Win. In his previous outing, Werewolf Ninja Philosopher, similar frustrated thoughts swirled around for me. Shots of the lead walking around New York would extend really long, existing mostly to break up some one-on-one chats where things would be pondered about in film nerd speak. This cycle would continue over and over. However, a shocking saving grace eventually came up: If this is on purpose, then it’s damn near brilliant. It’s comedy at the expense of anti-expectation fulfillment and slapstick at the expense of a critic’s patience. It’s art-house absolutely, and solely bound for that scene.
Sujewa stars opposite Alia Lorae in Secret Society of Slow Romance, where more film nerd discussions are front and center. They both play indie playmakers of the workaholic kind - Alia’s character having made hundreds of underground flicks, and Sujewa working on multiple ideas at once. Between quick cutaways of the same plant on the same shelf to break up what is action here, the two just discuss movies, life, world problems, and new ventures. “That sounds good,” “Interesting,” “That could be,” “I should watch that,” are all said on shuffle and repeat, in each chapter, at every table talk (the actors also never change seated position). But, while this might cause headaches for some, it only solidifies a winning directorial style, and in a very upfront manner.
The Secret Society for Slow Romance is bold to the point of lovely absurdity, living as an ever-escalating comedy of illusions, of lightened heights, and of packed-in small talk. The on-screen couple, cinephiles as presented in both the newbie and the eager beaver way, chat with one another at great length and at great repetition as a way to almost represent opposing ends on a scale of positive thinking. Both characters are confident and ambitious, but come with different disciplines and means. There’s no room for faults, errors, or “stinkin’ thinkin’” with these two unabashed liberal movie romantics, which is at times admirable and exhausting. For sure though, it’s what living with a progressive for twenty-four hours a day would be like (I know, being one).
It’s the ultimate “life in the time of Covid” movie, too. Of course words and sentences would repeat, of course attitudes and behaviors would recur, and of course attention would sometimes move towards the same objects in the same room, day after day after season. This film is the perfect expression of what it’s been like in lockdown for creatives and wannabes, from the pain to the awkward optimism shared collectively.
It’s a bit reminiscent of Steven Doughton’s Buoy, which had a woman who, while doing minor chores across her home, holds a phone call with her unseen brother. It was a wonderful showcase of minimalism and drama, all the while being just what it was - a phone call. The Secret Society for Slow Romance, within its doldrums of a jazzed-up and excitable duo and gorgeous NYC skyline photography, captured at just the right moments of a given day, makes the case well for picking up a camera and just going. Just recording. Just moving where and when you can.
It’s not a movie meant for the multiplex, but why bother with those venues? Aim for the brick walls in alleys and the microcinemas in eclectic neighborhoods, and you’ll find an appreciative audience, I think. Is that an attitude? It’s a reality and a strategy. Don’t be like the rest, and keep the goers on their toes, with or without explosions.
Still, it remains a hard sell to get people to sit through such ninety minutes as described above. If you can, as recommended, you’ll find a film of kind days and lofty ideals. What else can a movie imagine up? 3/5