After five years together as a couple, Shep (Danny Jolles) and Mandy (Sujata Day) have lost their spark. It’s nobody’s fault, exactly, that they’ve started to drift apart, and their problems are relatable ones: he’s still got some growing up to do, she’s beginning to fret about everything she’ll miss out on by settling down.
It’s a lot for two people to work through, and what they likely both need more than anything is time to sort things out. Unfortunately, however, it’s not only Shep and Mandy’s half-decade anniversary that’s rapidly approaching – but there’s also the inbound ballistic missile that’s about to turn them, along with everyone else in the greater Los Angeles area, into ash.
Yes, indeed, folks, that title is not a euphemism for anything – Blowing Up Right Now is a zippy relationship comedy that’s all about the impending apocalypse. In the middle of a long-brewing couples’ spat, Mandy’s phone receives an all-caps notification that L.A. is about 45 minutes away from being incinerated in a missile attack, and as the ensuing mass panic cuts off any chance of escape, she and Shep – on the verge of breaking up just seconds earlier – find themselves holed up in their house and forced to spend their last moments on Earth together.
“…what they likely both need more than anything is time to sort things out. Unfortunately…there’s also the inbound ballistic missile…”
That, for sure, is a pretty high-concept – you might even say gimmicky – way to trap two characters in an isolated location to sort through their issues. But credit Blowing Up director Tom Morris and screenwriter Chris Lee Hill for making a movie that very entertainingly transcends its outrageous, attention-grabbing setup. Simply put, the film is genuinely and consistently funny, and while its comedy is mostly of the broadly sitcom-ish type, there’s a surprising amount of heart – and even insight – on display alongside the humor. With a game and gifted pair of leads, a keen sense of pacing, and some refreshing unpredictability in the way it all unfolds, it’s got a lot more to offer than a fun premise alone.
A big part of the reason why Blowing Up clicks so strongly is that the script mostly skips over the obvious satirical targets – whoever might be responsible for unleashing that weapon of mass destruction, for example, is never even hinted at – in favor of a determinedly character-driven approach to the material. There is some fun to be had in the way Morris stages the frenzied reactions of Shep and Mandy’s fellow Los Angelinos to their impending doom, but mostly, the film is a two-hander that places more importance on the status of Shep and Mandy’s relationship than on the characters’ survival in the literal sense.
To that end, what transpires – for a while, at least – is that the couple barricades themselves at home and scramble from room to room checking items off a last-minute bucket list: building a blanket fort (and would-be bomb shelter) in the living room, a bout of poorly coordinated sexual experimentation in the bedroom, an epic, carb-laden last meal in the kitchen, and so on. All the while, their messy and myriad relationship issues start to crawl out into the open. Shep, a long-struggling artist who hawks his work online (at one point, an admirer calls him “the Van Gogh of Pinterest”), is better at charming his limited fanbase on social media than he is at cultivating meaningful relationships at home; Mandy, meanwhile, has been secretly carrying out a text-only affair with a hunky but empty-headed coworker (Corey Jantzen), who shes as representative of the more spontaneous and successful existence she could have sans Shep.
“While the script maybe piles on a plot twist too many in its final act, it’s otherwise pretty solidly constructed…”
In truth, neither character seems much like an ideal mate, but Day and Jolles are so charismatic, the laughs are so frequent, and the tone so well-balanced between sweetness and sarcasm that, little by little, it becomes easier to root for Shep and Mandy to patch things up – and to feel genuinely sad when that begins to seem highly unlikely. The film’s various points of conflict might often be amplified to borderline-slapstick levels, but they’re still rooted in needs and wants that seem true-to-life, and thus, Blowing Up connects beyond just its liberal scattering of gags. Even a mid-film plot development that threatens to steer the story into a dead end turns out to be a productive choice; rather than derailing things, it sets up some unexpected opportunities for visual comedy and amusing callbacks to earlier moments. While the script maybe piles on a plot twist too many in its final act, it’s otherwise pretty solidly constructed, and there’s never a sense that the movie is coasting on clever reversals and joke setups alone (though it’s got plenty of both of those, as well).
From its agonizing over societal collapse to its perceptive jabs at the fakeness of identities on social media, it’s tempting to think of Blowing Up as a comedy that’s perfect of its era. But timeliness is just one of the things that the filmmakers pull off quite nicely; those who appreciate more the more traditional pleasures of mainstream romantic comedies are likely to find a lot of that good stuff here, too, mixed in among all the doomsday prepping and live-streamed lovemaking.
With all that in mind, popularity-wise, this smart, fun, heartfelt little indie film deserves to blow up, right now.
Blowing Up Right Now (2019) Directed by Tom Morris. Written by Chris Lee Hill. Starring Danny Jolles, Sujata Day, Maria Blasucci, Corey Jantzen, Galadriel Stineman, Kelli Maroney, Pete Gardner. Blowing Up Right Now screened at the 2019 Dances With Films.
8 out of 10