Way back in 2007, there was a successful series of shorts about a cat with ennui. The black-and-white videos were made in France, and audiences everywhere seemed to instantly fall in love with Henri, the cat. Everyone but me, that is. I found the few I watched to be obnoxious and grating. I was not bemused by a bored cat looking out the window. My wife contends that this is due to my lack of anxiety or gloominess in my life; like Newt Scamander says, “…worrying means you suffer twice.”
All that to say that the first 15-minutes of Jaclyn Bethany’s Highway One did not grab my attention. It’s so stuffed with ennui I had instant flashbacks to the Henri show (not what it was called). It’s all apathetic onlookers and disaffected youth gathering together at Anna’s (Marié Botha) house on New Year’s Eve because… it’s expected? When one is over life already, the luster of a party seems nonexistent, so why even bother?
“…her friends are excited to see Nina, save for Maria, as her re-emergence dredges up old feelings…”
But just when I was thinking of writing off the project entirely, something unexpected and magical happened: Nina (Juliette Labelle) walks into the house. With that simple act, she enlivens not only all her old high school friends, who haven’t seen Nina in years but lifts the story out of the doldrums, and things become utterly engrossing from here to the thought-provoking ending. To clarify, her friends are excited to see Nina, save for Maria (Aisha Fabienne Ross), as her re-emergence dredges up old feelings that Maria pushed to the side and never addressed. Now, throughout this night, relationships will begin and end, resentments tested anew, and no one will leave the party the same.
Highway One doesn’t just get going because the reappearance of an old friend (or new acquaintance to some) pushes the townies out of their comfort zones, but also because Labelle is luminous in the role. The casual way she enters hides how big of a deal this is, and the ease with which she banters with everyone offers the small delights of being at a real party getting to know your new best friends. Then, she gets to show her true range as the narrative begins to wrap up, though explaining how would constitute a massive spoiler.
"…will stay with you long after it's over."