In Kris Roselli’s short film Common Grounds, two childhood friends reconnect at a diner after years of estrangement. Both suffered through the same traumatic experience as children, though their lives appear to have gone in very different directions, with clean-cut Spencer (Leonidas Grimanis) an actuary and Danny (Danny Donnelly) more rough and worn down by life. Despite their superficial differences, however, they still share something powerful enough to find them both in the same place at the same time.
I don’t think the following criticism will be surprising to anyone who has read my reviews on Film Threat, so I apologize if I come off as repetitious, but my main issue with this film is its running time. It’s too long to be consistently programmed at film festivals in a short block, and I don’t know of all that many distribution options for short films that are friendly to such a long film. How do you see this film? How do you get this in front of an audience?
Now, those are the practical elements of the running time issue, and not any that relate specifically to the film’s content, and how it makes use of its running time. I’ve often said, if a film perfectly tells its story, and it runs at an unconventional time, then so be it; I’d rather get the best possible film than one that adheres to arbitrary or practical considerations. That’s the exception to this criticism, and it relies on the film being flawless, which is rare.
Unfortunately, this is not one of those films that transcends the limitations it has set upon itself. It has remarkably powerful and haunting moments, but it also allows itself too much room to breathe. Spencer and Danny, mostly Danny, talk around what they’re trying to get at, which is realistic, sure, but can also get tiresome. We get the emotions of the main characters, and how their lives have been disrupted by their inabilities to deal with a childhood tragedy, but as an audience, catharsis is as elusive for us as it has been for them.
There’s an emotional journey to take, but I feel like we leap over much; we see the adults resulting from the childhood trauma, but what about the more immediate years following the tragedy. I’d have liked to see how the children first started to cope, as it would give more insight into the diverging paths the two ultimately took. I want their stories fleshed out even more.
Perhaps it is too much to expect for that journey to work in a short running time, which is why the film is as it is, pushing the boundaries of “short.” At the same time, perhaps the film needed to be even longer, and include more scenes that bridge the extremes to flesh out a character-driven feature even more. And that is ultimately the rub of this experience, as I find myself feeling that this is too long to function effectively for me as a short film, and yet it is not long enough to allow for the necessary emotional engagement to work either. It’s a tale that was either stretched too far, allowing me to notice what it lacked, or not far enough.
So I’m at a loss with Common Grounds. I didn’t connect with it to the extent that I would’ve liked, and I wonder what practical options the film truly has. I think there are powerful elements of performance and certain sequences do stick with you, but I also feel like those elements are stuck in a mass that, as is, is too big for its own good. While I can’t deny that it is a technically well-crafted and composed film, in the end, I find myself unable to fully embrace it.
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