Bert (Andre Meadows) is a hunched-over walking example of low self-esteem. When he’s not cleaning up at a restaurant or perfecting his painfully dry and deadpan “comedy” act at an open mic, he follows around the lovely Sara (Jeneta St. Clair) who, if she ever noticed that he was there, and the frequency in which he is in her vicinity, might call the cops. Her focus is elsewhere, however, as she lusts after Steffen (Morgan Benoit).
Being the object of lust is nothing new to Steffen, however, as he’s a very attractive man, but he also happens to be in a relationship with Frank (Myko Olivier), much to the chagrin of Frank’s roommate Shewana (Erin Konstantine), who also has feelings for Steffen. All this is unknown to Bert, however, who just sees Sara craving her some Steffen-love and thinks that, if he had Steffen’s looks, he’d have no problem talking to and getting somewhere with Sara. And after Bert meets a strange gentleman (David Atwood) after his open mic, it looks like Bert’s theory will be put to the test as he and Steffen switch bodies.
BERT the emotion picture is a slowly paced feature that tackles the soul-switch genre, usually full of comedy and silliness, with a more serious and dramatic tone. To this aim, the film brings up more conversation and contemplation on self-esteem, self-identity and the old “beauty on the inside” idea. Unfortunately, the film falls short on delivering on its thematic ambitions.
One of the major problems with this film is the seeming lack of a third act. The film is almost halfway through when the “soul switch” occurs, and the film then labors along with what that means with the characters involved before ending abruptly, without any real resolution. On top of that, while there are hints at who was behind the soul-switchery, it never becomes a plot point to the extent that we find out why any of this had to happen, or what he stands to gain by it.
Basically, if we were looking at this movie as if it were a simple graphical representation of the timeline, the entire narrative just needs to tighten up and slide to the left. This would bring the soul-switching shenanigans into the story earlier and allow for the now empty space in the end to be filled with more character growth and overall resolution. Because right now, it feels like a story where we got a significantly drawn out opening and middle, but an anticlimactic ending.
That said, I did enjoy the way the film plays with the audience’s preconceptions of who their hero is supposed to be. Nine times out of ten, the nerdy guy with no social skills just pining to be noticed is going to be the one you root for, but in this case his character starts out more like a stalker and, when he gets the outer beauty he so desperately desires, the creepy inside doesn’t change so much as become more unchecked. Kudos to both Andre Meadows for establishing the early Bert persona and to Morgan Benoit for following through with that persona to the point that the Bert-infused Steffen is as schlubby and creepy as pre-soul-switch Bert.
Which makes you think about the messages underneath it all (and, for a film that studies superficiality in a number of forms, you would hope the conversation would turn to what the film is saying beneath the surface). Sometimes those who aren’t all that great-looking on the outside also aren’t all that stellar on the inside (contrary to what so many Hollywood flicks would lead one to believe) and, likewise, sometimes those who are gorgeous on the outside, actually aren’t ugly on the inside. Of course, this could lead to a post-film conversation about how the two characters have grown over their lives, and good looks can be helpful for someone like Steffen to round out a more socially competent personality while the low self-esteem Bert harbors doesn’t necessarily lend itself to making the best social decisions either. So does self-esteem, in its abundances or scarcity, lead to comparable inner-outer beauty?
Overall, I like the basic premise behind the story. Studies of inner and outer beauty, and self-identity, exist in cinema, of course, but not so much as to saturate. Likewise, just because we’ve had soul-switching tales before, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that wasn’t predominantly a madcap comedy; BERT the emotion picture is very much not of that comic tone. To those ends, I really appreciate what the film was going for, which may be why I was so disappointed when it wrapped up; I felt like I got severely shortchanged on some really good ideas.
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