It’s strange, but therapy has become a popular activity these last few years as a way to get an impartial opinion about how we look at ourselves and approach life. Many people I know have confessed to me they just started. I had my opportunity a long time ago, and yes, it helped me more than care to admit. Sheldon Maddux tells a story of one young man who wants to find normalcy with the help of a seasoned therapist in his feature film, Neon Days.
Jake (Justin Duncan) is the young man in question. We open with Jake in a session with his therapist Sean (Eric Hanson), and he makes one request, “make me normal.” By day Jake works at a skating rink called “Interskate.” He works there with a crazy band of characters. Everything changes when a new employee, Sherry (Meagan Harris), arrives and Jake is smitten.
Before you think that is a story of young people in love, it’s much more than that. It’s about Jake’s attempt to figure his life out. He wants quick answers and refuses to dig into his past. Neon Days jumps back and forth in time with a series of flashbacks and forwards. The jumps are there not necessarily for narrative purposes, but to peer into salient points of his personality and his perception of events.
I’m mixed on Neon Days in that I found the subject behind the film fascinating, but its pacing and tone suffer from the very nature of that subject. Essentially, the story of Jake is of an introvert with parent issues, and his time with Sean is spent understanding and grasping the way he perceives his reality and his world.
“…he makes one request, ‘make me normal.'”
The major problem of Neon Days is its overall low energy and tone in execution. All terms you would associate with the introvert. The story moves slow, jokes are not the greatest, and a big reveal flew over my head until the end. Making a movie about an introvert is like making a movie about my life—it’s not going to be all exciting. Jake is an observer and philosopher about life in general and his life specifically. As an audience, managing expectations is vital to how you approach watching Neon Days.
What I appreciated is that Neon Days is a story about an introvert. What the film lacks as a marketable movie, it captures what it is like to be an introvert with authenticity—whether it’s your natural personality or driven there by circumstance. I related a lot to Justin Duncan’s performance and Maddux script. Jake is incredibly thoughtful and philosophical in therapy. He tends to take a back seat when hanging with his friends. He is prone to daydream about “what could be” when it comes to friendship and relationships.
The film’s slow pace and the way the “breakthrough” and “reveal” was presented and in need of the most reworking. That said, there was a charm that I couldn’t avoid. Justin Duncan adds sweetness to the character of Jake that makes you want to root for him. I also found the overly synthesized soundtrack was strangely endearing, especially during the skate-dance competition. Usually, I find this annoying, but not here, and I don’t know why.
Considering this is Sheldon Maddux’s first movie, you feel the lack of experience (and budget) in the overall production, notably cinematography and the editing. Honestly, it’s all par for the course for first-time filmmakers. I can’t wait to see your next and would suggest finding friends and colleagues you trust to give you brutal critiques—like film therapy in a way. Neon Days gets just enough of a recommendation for me. You’ve got to prepare yourself before going it, and really mine for the treasures buried deep within its story.
"…adds sweetness to the character of Jake that makes you want to root for him."