A young woman breaks free from an overbearing friendship after learning to recognize and assert her own talents and desires.
Christopher Good’s Crude Oil is an ambitious little short film that has style – and quirkiness – to spare. Embellished by a slew of stylistic flourishes – rapid montages, special effects, slow-and-fast-motion, flashbacks – as well as a healthy dose of humor and – gasp! – poignancy, it’s not quite the resonant treatise on adolescence and emotionally-abusive friendships it could have been, yet still marks the arrival of a talent to watch.
Jenny (Andreina Byrne) has an odd “not-so-super” power: she can “make people smell things.” She does just that in the opening scene of Crude Oil, wherein, after being forced to gulp down orange juice and toothpaste (the horror!), she makes her controlling best friend Lynn (Tipper Newton) smell something nasty. Lynn soon leaves town, and Jenny blossoms, finding herself – an archaeologist! a dancer! a food blogger! – in a hectic montage (“If a Jenny falls in the woods, without a Lynn by her side, does she make a sound?”).
“Jenny (Andreina Byrne) has an odd ‘not-so-super’ power: she can ‘make people smell things.’”
Despite the overbearing nature of her friendship, Jenny’s insecurities surface without Lynn by her side. While inspired by her newfound independence, she also doubts herself (“Do I have any friends?”), and even boyfriend Ken (Josh Faden) cannot fill that gap. As Lynn literally possesses her from a long distance (don’t ask), Jenny uses her power to send Ken into convulsions and then drives up to see Lynn – and into a resolution too bonkers to describe.
That happens to be my main qualm with this otherwise-inventive film – it’s a little too frenzied/loony for its own good. The urge to stuff a lot into a 14-minute narrative leads to a frenetic pace and structure that doesn’t entirely gel. The rapid-fire montages are off-the-chart, particularly one involving highway signs, but if Good were to just slow things down a little bit, letting the characterizations shine, this might have been a true off-kilter little gem.
That said, Crude Oil nails the truth: most folks have had the experience of having an oppressive best friend, who is as close as a sibling and as loathsome as your worst enemy, an energetic vampire who lives off your devotion but doesn’t allow your talents to thrive. It’s assuredly made, competently pieced together, and led by two amusing performances. Plus, it has what may be the best line of 2019 so far: “You made me smell cat shit. How do you think that made me feel?” Crude? Yes, but also slick, like oil.
Crude Oil (2019) Written and Directed by Christopher Good. Starring Andreina Byrne, Tipper Newton, Josh Hadem. Crude Oil screened as part of the short film competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
6 out of 10