Nick (Danny Lane) is a musician who talks a big game. Sarah (Kayla Soyer-Stein) is an artist who curiously doesn’t seem to create any art. Together they are a couple that are more than starting to grow sick of each other. Their Brooklyn lifestyle suddenly becomes more interesting when Nick finds a cell phone on the sidewalk that, when he answers it, gives him directions to a spot in Vermont where Nick can find a box full of money, should he get there at the right time. Interest soon gives way to suspicion, however, as Nick starts to wonder if Sarah had something to do with the phone, and whether it’s all just some stupid game.
Secret Everything has more in common with experimental film than it does a traditional narrative. Sure, there’s a story there at the core, but the film executes its narrative in a unique way, often hopping around in the timeline, giving us a glimpse of what’s to come, or repeating sentiments we’ve already seen.
And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re thinking of checking this one out, I can only say that, if you can make it through the first twenty minutes, the rest of the film settles into a groove that is easier to grasp. Maybe that’s because your mind becomes conditioned by that point, but I think the edit calms down considerably, and the film starts to play out in a more traditional way (albeit with flourishes). Baz Luhrmann once said that he made the opening minutes of Moulin Rouge! particularly insane and over-the-top in an effort to weed out those in the audience who wouldn’t be up for the film; by his reasoning, if you could survive the first few minutes, the rest of the film was for you. I see a similar sentiment, if not intention, with how Secret Everything unfolds.
Experimental narrative or execution aside, the film then comes down to Nick and Sarah. Frankly, I could barely stand either one of them. While I didn’t share Nick’s opinion that Sarah would never do anything artistic (if that was his opinion, and not just her own low self-esteem coming through), I did find her to be almost relentlessly negative. About herself and practically everything. It became draining just to watch.
That said, there was still an honest curiosity to her personality that was missing in the outward bluster of Nick. Sarah may be doubtful of herself and everything else, but it also leaves her open to new ideas and perspectives. Nick seems to have locked in on what he thinks, and how he thinks it, and he’s not pondering life so much anymore as simply telling it how he sees it, whether his view is accurate or not.
Throw them together and you’ve got an example of what some would call the “hipster” aesthetic (others would just call them “douchebags”), somehow suffering each other for reasons I couldn’t understand. Often, because you can’t be sure of how reliable the people walking you through the film are, it’s hard to tell if the couple is as miserable as they seem (for example, if you place your opinion on their relationship on how Sarah sees things, of course it’s going to look bleak; everything looks bleak). Still, as portrayed, I not only wanted to see less of them individually, I wanted to see less of them together too.
You don’t have to like the main characters, necessarily, to enjoy a film, and for reasons I’m still trying to figure out, I found the film pretty intriguing. I must admit I was nonplussed with much of the opening (it seemed like a film that was experimental for no other reason than to pad out the running time), but I couldn’t help but note how invested I was in figuring out how it all wrapped up. Considering how much I disliked the main characters, staying that engaged is a credit to the filmmaking.
Overall, Secret Everything is a challenging experience. I think some will find great meaning to elements of the film, and others could dismiss it as pretentious garbage, edited by someone having a seizure while juggling timelines. I could see all interpretations, honestly, and believe them; I think the film is open to it. For myself, it was a film that had to, but did, grow on me, despite starring two characters I couldn’t stand for much of the running time. So… that happened. After all I’ve said, I ultimately concur with the final spoken sentiment before the end credits. While I won’t spoil that here, if you do see the film, you’ll understand.
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