In his notes on the film website, director Duncan Coe says A Room Full of Nothing is a break-up letter to Austin: “… a sardonic romance that explores the complexity of modern relationships, the transient nature of art, isolationism, escapism and classic absurdity.”
The story follows Phyllis (Ivy Meehan), a collage artist, and Barry (Duncan Coe), an actor, on a particularly demoralizing day.
The trouble starts with bad reviews of Barry’s play. Following this, Phyllis has work going into an art show and has to deal with the snarky gallery owner who is less art aficionado than profiteer. Both artists are frustrated with the lack of respect for their work.
Feeling unloved and under-appreciated, the couple grouse and whine their way through the angst. Fed up with others, they spend the evening fantasizing that they are the last two people on Earth. Phyllis is the one who ultimately, presumably facetiously, calls upon the powers that be to remove all other humans from the planet.
They wake up the next morning to find her wish has come true.
“…spend the evening fantasizing that they are the last two people on Earth…“
Now, me, I’m going full Zombieland meets Mad Max if this ever happens. They can call me Immortan Joe. Not Phyllis and Barry, they choose to stay right where they are, drinking cheap wine and staring at the stars from their backyard. Their break-out crazy move is to play endless croquet.
In a Science Fiction context we could settle in for a sumptuous chat about forked timelines, alternate universes, higher powers, technology vs. magic, and so on, but this film doesn’t go to any of those places. We are left with a cold serving of “suspension of disbelief” on a paper plate and two buck chuck in a solo cup.
The most difficult aspect of this film comes when the third act takes a hard left turn into a trippy psychedelic exploration of codependency and toxic narcissism, leaving the whole “value of art” discussion hanging.
The reality of art as a passion in a time when technology enables everyone to make art is that if you’re not one of the absolute geniuses of your time, then you’re going to spend more time marketing yourself than making art and you need to get great at that. A lot of art these days is mediocre. Art as self-expression is amazing and therapeutic, but may serve no one but the artist and be of no interest to anyone else. This is perfectly acceptable, and in fact not a bad thing at all. Not everyone is going to make a living at it.
However, there’s a generation of burgeoning artists who were told as children they could be/do anything, and are just now finding out how wrong that is. Sometimes they make mediocre films about that disappointment.
A Room Full of Nothing (2019) Directed by Duncan Coe, Elena Weinberg. Written by Duncan Coe. Starring Ivy Meehan, Duncan Coe.
6 out of 10