SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Mental Health and its related diseases and conditions are a rich seam to mine for film. In writer-director Dillon Tucker’s Pure O, we encounter pure obsessive-compulsive disorder. With the “pure” version of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you see none of the ritualistic behaviors, and the patient suffers all the anxiety. Thus we find our protagonist Cooper (Daniel Dorr) in his car working through his anxiety nightmare that he’ll kill his fiancee Emily (Hope Lauren) with a butcher’s knife.
The damning thing about such anxiety is it probably won’t manifest itself until a deeply inopportune moment. So Cooper, realizing the harm that could be done if it’s not addressed, seeks help. Initially, he and Emily believe this is depression. However, therapist Penelope (Theresa Hayes) directly identifies it as obsessive-compulsive disorder. So he’s referred to Nora (Candice Renee), who runs a group therapy for people with pure obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Were it just the group therapy sessions, Pure O would have been intriguing. By blending those sessions with sequences at the rehab clinic Cooper works for, and the intimate space of Emily and Cooper’s relationship, we have a deep dive into the life of a man determined to work through his issue. Cooper is a poster child for therapy. As we watch him put in the time and the hours, which is contrasted by the addicts he is counseling.
“…runs a group therapy for people with pure obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
One addict in particular, Brandon (effectively portrayed by Jeffrey A. Baker), is a really hard case. He’s been in and out of therapy for a long time, giving in to the bottle every time life gets hard. He also is very standoffish and doesn’t want to participate in the therapy he views as useless. For Brandon, the clinic is his safe space where he can hide from the outside world.
To complicate matters further, Emily’s father, Steve (Timothy Landfield), has developed stage 4 cancer and can tell the end is nigh. Watching Cooper interact with Steve in such a soft and caring way is wonderful. A great balm to the spirit is to realize no matter how bad your situation feels, someone out there has it worse and needs your assistance.
Pure O possesses a very strong acting ensemble. Everyone on display is giving it their all. You watch as Dorr portrays Cooper’s misgivings, setbacks, and progress with a gentle and smooth approach. Everyone else seems to work with the copious energy the lead actor provides. Dorr is a natural leading man, and I look forward to seeing him in more speaking roles.
Tucker wrote, directed, and edited a fine film in Pure O. It is beautifully shot and features some really great California set locations. The film possesses a warm, understanding vibe to it. I found the film to be a sweet experience and a marked change of pace from standard cinematic fare these days. Truly, it’s independent film where you find the titles worth championing. Seek this out if you need a film that will serve as a warm hug.
Pure O screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…a warm hug."