With The Secret Society for Slow Romance, writer-director Sujewa Ekanayake reveals how much he loves New York City. The film also spotlights how much he adores the joy one gets from cinema and romance. What is love if not natural, unpredictable, and spontaneous? What is cinema if not socially and culturally powerful? These questions are more or less raised by a droll comedy narrative, and the result is fairly amusing.
As unusually upbeat music plays in the background, we are introduced to indie filmmakers Rene (Sujewa Ekanayake) and Allyson (Alia Lorae). Rene lives in a cozy apartment and regularly goes to the park, while Allyson is seen walking the streets of New York. Both of them are seen wearing a mask, which is the only indication we need to know that the movie’s reality mirrors ours.
Shot as a naturalistic look into the lives of two people as they develop a professional and romantic relationship, The Secret Society for Slow Romance is leisurely and unfussy. Separated into chapters, the film is driven by conversation and human connection. Most scenes transpire at a dining table, as Rene and Allyson sit at opposite ends and share thoughts. Initially, Allyson is Rene’s protégé, and their lively interactions revolve around their passion for filmmaking. But as they grow closer, their vulnerabilities begin to seep through. Then, they go on dates all over NYC.
“…Allyson is Rene’s protégé, and their lively interactions revolve around their passion for filmmaking.”
Despite taking place during the pandemic, Ekanayake keeps the tone and rhythm generally breezy and pleasant, in large part due to how the characters are written and portrayed. Allyson is a high-spirited director with a lot of kooky ideas and opinions. Rene is more serious-minded, giving advice about mental health and underscoring the importance of empathy. That’s not to say he isn’t offbeat as well (one of his movies was about a ninja going on dates). Their interactions are awkwardly funny, no doubt, but they are also enlightening when it comes to the life and career of an indie filmmaker. The couple talks about the indie production and distribution process, but they do so in a manner that still resembles a form of banter.
The romantic comedy is proudly eccentric in every aspect. The filmmaking style is rough around the edges, relying a bit too much on music to evoke the dreamy atmosphere. But the director has a kinetic way with the camera, combining handheld camerawork with beautiful wide shots of the sprawling city. Even when the characters sit at a table to talk, there is movement and engagement by virtue of the energetic cinematography. The occasional extreme close-up is endearingly off-putting.
While the movie meanders (be it intentional or not), the blank, self-serious humor remains quite effective because of the performances. Ekanayake’s Rene is characteristically rigid and composed. Lorae is more infectiously dynamic and quirky. Her reactions and mannerisms are comically heightened. Opposites attract, right? However, in this case, the romantic aspect is somewhat lacking. Nevertheless, The Secret Society for Slow Romance is an entertaining and optimistic comedy with an authentic indie spirit.
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"…an entertaining and optimistic comedy with an authentic indie spirit."