Every culture deals with death in its own way. In 21st century America, death is like a time bomb in the middle of our house that we throw a sheet over and pretend it’s something else—a smart microwave, perhaps. Death is to be ignored, avoided, and shunned at all cost. When people do die, they’re pumped full of chemicals to look as alive as possible, not for the sake of the dead—vanity is the first thing to go—but for the sake of the living.
Because death is kept out of mind, its sudden arrival can be difficult to process. Some terminally ill patients may even require a guide for their final moments—someone to ease them out of this world and into the next. That’s where Lex (Roberta Colindrez) comes in. Dressed in Napoleon Dynamite’s prom outfit and packing flashcards with comforting platitudes on them, she and her father, Garret (John Ortiz), run a business that deals in “existential comfort.”
“Dressed in Napoleon Dynamite’s prom outfit and packing flashcards…she and her father…run a business that deals in ‘existential comfort.’”
Despite being hopelessly antisocial, Lex is remarkably adept at connecting with those who are about to be disconnected. This one talent of hers is upended when she is hired by Valerie (Judith Light), a woman with cancer who doesn’t exhibit the fear that Lex once did. Like a robot who is programmed to make staples and runs out of steel, Lex is left in a state of confusion and inadequacy. Thankfully, there’s a psychic in Valerie’s circle who is a bachelor, and we all know what that foreshadows (hint: you can cut it with a knife). There’s also a secretary who thinks she’s a samurai.
As is probably becoming clear, Ms. White Light, written and directed by Paul Shoulberg, is one of those quirky indies with a heart. Endearing characters flex their relatability by awkwardly flirting and learning lessons the hard way. Soft rock gently caresses your hearing faculties as characters contemplate the mystery of life. It may sound like I’m mocking such things—and, to some degree, I am—but they don’t disqualify a movie from being more than the sum of its part.
“Soft rock gently caresses your hearing faculties as characters contemplate the mystery of life…”
What does, however, is a movie’s overreliance and middling execution of said conventions. The artificially dysfunctional dialogue is the first and most heinous offender. It has no rhythm, to the point where even a great character actor like Ortiz sounds like he’s reading lines off the palm of his hand.
There’s nothing offensively awful about Ms. White Light, but it lacks a unique perspective. True, death has been done to death. Ever since caveman #1 couldn’t wake up caveman #2, people have been telling stories about the big cut-to-black—or cut-to-white, depending on your beliefs. Still, great stories continue to be told, but Ms. White Light isn’t one of them. There may only be 360 ways to see an elephant—I think Gary Busey said that—but death has enough angles to last us until it’s finally cured. Someone’s working on that, right?
Ms. White Light (2019) Written and Directed by Paul Shoulberg. Starring Roberta Colindrez, Zachary Spicer, Carson Meyer, John Ortiz, Judith Light.
5 out of 10 stars