Mute Date

Has there ever been a case where a unique premise has been so creatively original that it overcomes the flaws in execution? I can’t think of one, as poor implementation always hurts the end product. Such is the case of Cody Clarke’s Mute Date. The idea is interesting, but odd stylistic choices and awful dialogue prevent the movie from ever rising above mediocrity.

Noah Gutman (Anthony Kapfer) receives a packet in the mail from Tellr Laboratories. Inside the manila envelope is a letter stating that Noah has been approved for as a beta-tester for Tellr’s latest product—a pill that allows people to talk telepathically with others who have taken the pill. Noah is set-up on a blind date with Erica (Nina Tandilashvili) and is told to take the pill one hour before the meeting time.

At the park where the date will take place, once the duo gets within a certain radius of each other, the pill automatically links up, so whoever’s thoughts you hear is the person you are meeting. For this four hour date, Noah and Erica must stay within the park and are unable to talk; thus they can share their thoughts and pantomime but little else.

“… a pill that allows people to talk telepathically with others who have taken the pill.”

Of course, as with any new technology things do go wrong. At one point in the date, Noah needs to use the restroom. Erica believes she saw a building which had one on it not too far from where they are sitting. However, she gets all turned around, and they get a tad lost in the woods of the park. Erica apologizes to him, stating how she has never been the best navigator. He says it is okay and that he’s going to relieve himself behind some bushes. The Tellr pill, which monitors conversations and behaviors causes abdominal discomfort in Erica, claiming she was sexist because she is terrible with directions. The pill believes this is perpetuating sexist stereotypes and is not confined to just one human being, male or female, not knowing their way around very well.

Then come the ads; yes, the magical telepathy pill runs ads, unless you make a one-time payment of $10.99, plus micropayments during peak advertising hours. The potential couple tries the best they can to overcome the ridiculousness of Tellr’s invention and bond over their shared hatred of the seemingly magic tablet. As the hours pass by, the true nature of Tellr Laboratories work comes to light and Noah and Erica are face to face with a terrible truth.

Mute Date does not lack for conversation, as the leads communicate via their mind; and that right there is the issue. The way the actors’ sound is tinny and odd. Clarke was his own one-person sound engineer recording, editing, and mixing the audio himself. As such, I am uncertain if the off-putting way they sound was intentional. Kapfer and Tandilashvili never sound entirely present; not helping matters is how at times the psychical movements and the voiceovers don’t match up.

“…shies away from the full potential of its ideas.”

Then there’s the dialogue, at least for the less plot-centric parts of Mute Date. The early conversations feel improvised, which is not necessarily a bad thing unto itself. However, there is a lot of repetition in what Noah and Erica say to each other. Asking about each other’s work, Noah tells Erica that he is a stand-up comic, specializing in one-liners. Erica then goes on about how she would have two lines, which is twice as many as the guy with one line. The majority of their talks on the date go round and round like that.

It is too bad too, as the leads are pretty good here. Both of them have strong physical presences and move their bodies throughout the space in a way that suggests both the fun they are having with each other, and the bizarre reality they found themselves. Anna Fikhman, as the computerized voice monitoring the beta-test, does a great deadpan and her absolute belief that she’s above these two people in every way comes through quite strongly.

Mute Date shies away from the full potential of its ideas. Some jokes land, some jokes don’t. Some moments work, others are so repetitive as to be annoying. Then there’s the whole alpha-beta dichotomy, which has long been disproven; by the very person to do the original study of wolf behaviors that led to that thought process no less. Despite solid acting and an original idea, all of this means there is very little to recommend about Mute Date.

Mute Date (2019) Directed by Cody Clarke. Written by Cody Clarke. Starring Anthony Kapfer, Nina Tandilashvili, Anna Fikhman, Sarah Teed.

3 out of 10 Park Benches

31 responses to “Mute Date

  1. This is a moronic and carelessly written review, riddled with smoking guns that clearly show how little the critic paid attention while watching.

    A few corrections:

    – A photo used in this review (at the time of me writing it—maybe they’ll take it down later) is a behind the scenes still of the actress, not a still from the film. If the reviewer had been paying attention while watching the film at all, they would have noticed this, as the behind the scenes still bears no resemblance to any single shot in the movie.

    – Basic plot points are grossly misremembered and conflated, offering a very inaccurate depiction of the goings on of the film. This film is very ’cause and effect’, and the causes and effects are not interchangeable. By reporting these incorrectly, the film is inaccurately depicted as borderline nonsensical. No film could hold up to this level of unintelligent scrutiny.

    – The critic complains about the ‘odd sound’ of the actors’ communication. The characters are using a technology in order to communicate telepathically. Any verbal communication technology has an inherent odd sound to it that colors it, whether it be Skype, a landline phone call, a walkie talkie, whatever. To consider this a fault in my sound engineering, and to claim to be “uncertain” if I intended this, is ridiculous. This is a blatantly deliberate movie. And as far as the complaint that the physical movements and the voiceovers don’t always match up—that is also very clearly a quirk of the telepathy technology they are using. How often do you emote while saying things in your head?

    – Last but not least, the critic faults the film for at all discussing the concept of ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ types, stating that the science behind it has been “disproven”. Are characters in films not allowed to have opinions that may be incorrect or based on faulty information? People in life talk about ‘alphas’ and ‘betas’ colloquially all the time. This film merely depicts that people communicate in that way. Is that a sin?

    I believe in film reviews, I believe in film critics. I think they have the potential to provide much-needed analysis. But this is a film review that literally makes people who have not seen Mute Date dumber and not just less-informed about the film, but erroneously informed about the film. Film Threat should be ashamed to have published this review.

  2. Mr. Clarke,
    I am the author this review and would like to rebut a few of the statements in your very heated reply-

    1. The review does not serve as a full-on breakdown of the plot. Thus some elements are missing or only mentioned in passing or glossed over to a certain degree. The reader needs to understand the setup and the characters before the review proper begins; therefore they have valuable context when specific elements or character beats are mentioned.

    None other than Roger Ebert himself did this in his review of the movie Annapolis. At one point, he is discussing how formulaic and cliche the ending of the film gets. Ebert describes how James Franco’s character sees his dad in the crowd and what have you. The thing was, Ebert did not accurately represent the ending of the fight. I emailed him asking about this discrepancy, and he informed me that it was a deliberate choice on his part. See, the ending is cliche and overwrought with dramatics, but Franco does not see his dad until exiting the ring. However, he explained that he needed to convey how cloying it was and yet doing so via edit for edit of the movie would have taken too much time. So he still got the emotional manipulation across in a concise manner even if the sequence is a bit different than as he described.

    2. The plot synopsis consists of the second, third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs and do show the plot progression in sequential order. I describe the basic idea of the pill, that the two meet up, along with describing issues that can go wrong. Thus, I mention when they get lost and are punished by the pill. It is so only after all that happens that the ads come into play; Finally, I wanted to hint that there’s something more behind Tellr’s work (hopefully) without spoiling anything beyond character names, basic traits, and basic setup. Given that the ads happen after the punishments are doled out over the restroom snafu and that Tellr’s motivations are the last few scenes of the movie (excluding ending shot) the synopsis as written is an accurate representation of Mute Date.

    Any moments in the movie that are specifically mentioned starting with the sentence “Mute Date does not lack for…” are for illustrative purposes only. If it reads as if I am suggesting that the conversation about him being a standup and the whole two line/ twice as many lines back and forth occurs after the bathroom debacle is unintentional. However, since Mr. Anthony Kapfer read the review and found it to be polite and constructive, I doubt that is how it reads.

    3. I do not know you, and as far as I am aware, Mute Date is the first movie of yours I have watched. As such, it is unfathomable and would have been egotistical of me to presume what the purpose of the “tinny” sound would have been. There are plenty of reasons for the sound design to sound that way ranging from budgetary restrictions to corrupted files needing to be re-recorded. Therefore I can only make assumptions about such intentionality.

    As for the physical movements, when one moves, it is instant. The brain sends signals to your hand/eyes/ legs what have you and those appendages move without you ever being entirely aware of it (once you pass a certain age). Thus, I found that out of sync movements to be distracting.

    4. The scientists are the ones discussing the dichotomy of alpha versus beta; which is patently absurd. If the two average joe heroes used those terms, there would not be a problem. However, to buy in that such doctors and scientists of all kinds who work for Tellr would use this terminology strains credibility.

    I appreciate your comments and that you took the time to write them.

    1. Bobby,

      Your Ebert yarn is inapplicable here. It is not relevant or appropriate to the issues I have raised.

      I will now have to be more specific in my gripe regarding the plot elements you have grossly misreported, since apparently you have paid so little attention to the movie that you are unclear what my gripe is. I will present specific quotes from your review in which you describe the plot that are untrue and present a inaccurate representation of the film.

      “so whoever’s thoughts you hear is the person you are meeting.”

      This implies that Tellr enables people to read each other’s thoughts. What Tellr enables is telepathy, not mind-reading. A person’s thoughts are still their own, are still private. But, they can speak into each other’s minds. This is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, and I would normally let it slide, but it’s important to point out as part of a clear pattern of you habitually misrepresenting the movie. There are other tiny inaccuracies along the lines of this one, but, for brevity’s sake, I will not detail them all, and instead just skip to the big gripe I have, which is with the following sentence:

      “The Tellr pill, which monitors conversations and behaviors causes abdominal discomfort in Erica, claiming she was sexist because she is terrible with directions.”

      ‘Sexist because she is terrible with directions’ makes no sense. I would never write that into a script and that does not happen in the movie. What does happen in the movie is that she says that she is a poor navigator. She is then punished for saying that, on a technicality: she is a woman, and she has said that she is a poor navigator, therefore, because she has said that, she has perpetuated a stereotype of women as poor navigators. The punishment for this is not abdominal discomfort. She receives a temporary muting of her communication, which is in line with speech restrictions on various modern social media communication platforms. This makes sense, this is comprehendible, whereas, the inaccurate description you have presented makes the movie seem random and dumb.

      It is wonderful that you had the opportunity to communicate with the late Roger Ebert, but it is disappointing that you did not understand what he said to you to the point that you apparently came away from that conversation believing you now have carte blanche to misrepresent plot elements of films you don’t like, causing the films to seem nonsensical, with the result that others who have not yet seen the film believe the film is nonsensical. Ebert did not paint a portrait of Annapolis as nonsensical. You painted a portrait of Mute Date as nonsensical. What Ebert told was a white lie, whereas what you told is a straight-up lie. Whether you lied intentionally or not is irrelevant: the fact is, what you said was untrue and misrepresentative of the movie. I genuinely believe you are not a malicious person, and instead simply a careless film viewer. But, as a critic, it is unacceptable to be a careless film viewer. You must strive for better than that.

      In regards to the “tinny” sound of the dialogue, I should for sure point out that you are the first person to describe the sound as ‘tinny’, or undesirable in the slightest. It is clearer than anything you will hear out of a phone, or a Skype call, or a walkie talkie, by a wide margin. It was recorded on professional broadcast microphones at the highest quality, and processed correctly. In fact, I have only ever heard compliments on the sound of the dialogue. That you find it tinny is a personal thing, for sure. Certainly it doesn’t sound like sound coming from a person’s mouth, and it is not intended to—it is meant to sound like sound from a groundbreaking new mode of communication, and it does. You do not need to be well-versed in me to know what I intended here. The movie itself states what I intended by way of existing. The sound is line with what the film is about.

      Your digression to explain how the brain sends signals to body parts is useless. The film is about a technology that two people have never used before. It is new, it takes getting used to. Any slight delay, any clumsiness, any inelegance in that regard with their facial expressions or body movements, is wholly by design, because that is what the movie is about: two people beta testing something very odd that they’ve never used before. Likely they would get better at it over time, after it becomes a part of their lives for a while, as with any new technology.

      You refer to “the scientists” as the ones discussing the dichotomy of alpha versus beta. I should point out that that does not happen in the movie: scientists do not discuss the dichotomy of alpha versus beta. One scientist discusses it: a scientist who is entirely unorthodox. There is nothing by the book about this character at all. She is extremely manipulative, a master persuader, a deceiver. She is not a voice of reason—she is a voice of deception.

      I have no problem with you disliking Mute Date. Any movie is not for everyone. But, you have to choose your issues with a film wisely and accurately, almost especially so when it comes to films you don’t like. That is your job as a film critic. I hope that, going forward, you take your job a bit more seriously.

      Film Threat, at its best, is a trusted outlet and a way for smaller independent filmmakers to get their films out there, and reviewed, alongside and with the same respect and attention as bigger films. You wouldn’t work here if you didn’t believe in that. So, be better. I can confirm that, because of your careless review of Mute Date, you have dissuaded several independent filmmakers from ever submitting their films to Film Threat for review.

      P.S. Please switch the behind the scenes shot for a still that is actually from the film, or, at the very least, indicate that it is a behind the scenes shot. I do not think it is fair to present a behind the scenes shot as a still from the film.

      1. My assistant saw the film at the Alamo Draft house. Please don’t be sour, your tone makes you come across as a pretencious loser. Pro tip, next time you make something less than appealing, think twice before asking for reviews. If you can’t take a little heat than you shouldn’t be a chief. Or try to be…

  3. How dare you question the legitimacy of Johnathan Redcorn. The man has been critiquing movies for ages, probably longer than you’ve been alive. Why would he comment if he hadn’t seen the movie? Get over yourself.

    1. Actually, Justin funny you should mention that. One of my assistants went to the release on my word. She never mentioned it being stellar and would have passed the word up the chain of command if it was something she thought I should see. try Not to be too hard on Cody though, it takes a lot to put yourself and your work out there. Keep at it mate! And if you ever want to send the movie over for official review I’ll see what I can do for you kid. No guarantee, Best of luck to you!

  4. Do you think Cody is just taking this personal because he had to spend money to get his film reviewed? I do. And the fact that you are so up in arms about it makes you come off as both douchey and insecure. It’s a movie. I get you worked hard on it and naturally you want it to be well-received by everyone but it is impossible for anything to be universally liked. And naturally, as a filmmaker, you are going to make a movie that sucks. You should take a note from your lead actor and show a little class next time.

    1. Hey Dwight, To be clear, Cody did not pay our “Fast Pass” fee. Cody submitted his film for review just like hundreds of other filmmakers and paid no fee. We receive on average, about 250 reviews each month for review. And even with 30 writers doing reviews for the site, we’re only able to cover half of the movies submitted. We offer the opportunity to guarantee a review by selecting the “Fast Pass” option for a fee ($50) that guarantees a review within 7 days or on the date of your choosing. You are paying to get to the front of the line of other filmmakers who submit to us on a monthly basis. It really was the only fair way to be sure that filmmakers get the result they are seeking – which is coverage. The money is split with the writer and some of the money allows us to continue to keep the site going. I don’t know of any other media outlet that has made itself as available to true indie filmmakers. Sure, some movies get positive reviews and some don’t. That’s the way it goes. I understand that we have made some mistakes over our 34 year history as a media outlet, but we do our best to be honest and true and fair. And we are not perfect.
      SIDE NOTE: On a side note, all of this hullabaloo over Mute Date makes me really want to see it and I personally plan to see Cody’s movie when it appears on Amazon Prime. So, critic Bobby LePire’s evil plan to dissuade audiences from seeing Mute Date has clearly failed. I for one, cannot wait to see it.

      1. I appreciate the response but my god, Way to stand behind your writer on that comment. I wonder how many of the wheels got to him from that bus you just threw him under. He’s paid to give his thoughts on the film and he did just that in a well-informed, well put together article. And as a first-time reader, I respect that. If the director is that insecure about his work then maybe he picked the wrong business to get into. It’s part of the business, He should get over it and let the film speak for itself.

  5. Dude, Johnathan Redcorn is pretty well known in the indie film field. If I were you I would send him the movie to watch for himself then if you don’t think he’s seen it yet. He’s a honest to death reviewer, probobly as honest as it gets.

  6. Damn! This review was generous and dudes are complaining about it. To give “3 park benches out of 10” to this atrocity….damn! I wouldn’t even give the wood for 1.

  7. Jonny Redcorn should def put his spin on dis. JCity reviews helped me get my start when I first started filmmaking. The opportunity generated tons of exposure for me, even back in the days before the JRR page and content started being posted when he made the switch on accounts. Cody, has he sent you his contact info yet? Tell him Jamala sent you.

  8. Redcorn review is a must. He provided me with a review way back when I was in the midst of a struggling career in softcore. Compared me to Marlon Brando with an “impressive kickstand.” After that review i took charge of myself and now I’m producing my own films. Then again, a buddy of mine in a mutual film, he wasn’t so impressed with. He compared him to “Robert Pattinson with a breakfast link.” I never saw that friend again. In all, though, his reviews can empower. For me certainly.

  9. When Redcorn speaks people listen. Can’t say that enough. When teaching my aspiring filmmaking class JR himself did a webinar with the class and it was a big success. It made a huge impact on the students approach to the art and I truly hope others are blessed by his good graces. Even if he gives a bad review, at least he reviewed it at all. Not many critics have the power and connections he has, so take the chance and reach out. Can’t go wrong.

  10. Is this supposed to be art? I don’t get it? I watched the trailer but I’m more confused now than I was before reading this.

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