Roberto Beltre’s Dear Melissa dives deep into the subject of suicide from the perspective of a close friend and once a romantic partner. The story is told in a series of flashbacks and centers on the titular, Melissa (Ari White). She is a young adult attempting to cope and deal with the aftermath of the suicide of her ex-boyfriend, Winston (Gregory Dickson).
I’m fascinated with the breadth that Beltre takes on the subject matter. Like shattered glass, he uses flashbacks to focus on specific moments of Melissa’s struggle and journey. It starts with Winston’s parents after the funeral and his mother blaming Melissa for her son’s death (it’s quite nasty). We get into the breakup of that relationship with started the spiral and how Melissa could not cope with Winston’s dark turn.
Then we go down the road of Melissa’s mental and emotional health as she struggles with Winston’s loss and the guilt she feels as being the reason for Winston’s death and “not doing enough” to prevent it. She also faces her anger and self-imposed alienation from her close friends.
“…a young adult attempting to cope and deal with the aftermath of the suicide of her ex-boyfriend…”
The film is a DIY indie film by writer/director/actor Roberto Beltre. It’s has a low-budget feel to it, and Beltre does what he can to produce a good-looking movie. Someone, please hand this guy a million or two for his next project.
But what he lacks in money, Beltre makes up in what he can control, which is story and acting. Beltre has pieced together an amazing story about the challenging subject of suicide. Adding to its degree of difficulty, Beltre then cuts up his narrative and presents it in a steady flow of flashforwards and flashbacks. It takes a moment to realize the story is jumping all over the place in time, but once you’re on-board, the cuts made in the narrative story make sense and only enhance the overall emotional story.
The other highlight is Ari White as Melissa. She barely has anything on her IMDB page (not even a picture), and she carries the entire movie. Look, she’s no Meryl Streep, but gives a fantastic performance considering her lack of prior screen time. I would have loved to see a more profound and darker emotional performance, but then again, sometimes, it’s best to hold back and to give an authentic execution instead. Character-wise, we, as flawed human beings, still hold back our emotions and play them close to the vest. Not sure this was intentional, but it’s real.
Dear Melissa may receive criticism for not being a PSA on suicide (and it doesn’t need to be). Roberto Beltre tells a heartfelt story of those affected by tragic events, while never resorting to narrative tropes. Instead, Dear Melissa documents the journey of those left behind in the aftermath of suicide.
"…the cuts made in the narrative story make sense and only enhance the overall emotional story."