Haley (Laura Benson) is heading out to see the world, and the departure has been harder to bear than Sal (Seth Johansson) imagined. Grilling his best friend Ty (Brian Randles), who saw Haley before she left, on the details of her departure, Sal proclaims his love for Haley, even as Ty, who has a steady girlfriend, hides his own feelings for her.
Around the same time, Linda (Heather Larson), with baby in tow, asks to stay with her former friend Steve (Nicholas Null) for a little while. Linda is hiding out from a Frenchman she knew in Europe, Mathieu (Aurelien Gaya), who has arrived unexpectedly in Los Angeles, hoping to reconnect. Mathieu, alone without a place to stay in LA, unable to connect with Linda, winds up trying to reconnect with their other mutual friend, Jessica (Tiffany Kieu), instead.
And that’s nowhere near everything and everyone that pops up in the film, but that’s as basic as I can go without giving too much away. Personal connections are often messy and complicated in Edgar Muñiz’s feature film, The Haley Project, and you deserve to experience them unspoiled.
Unfortunately, my personal experience is that I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Honestly, I didn’t really like them. Practically any of them.
And part of that may have to do with fact that the default setting for most of these performances seemed to be “pissed off.” Conversations are often so aggressive that you wonder how anyone can stand to be around each other. Even supposedly pleasant experiences seem like everyone is just trying to get to that line where they can bring more drama to the moment. Or it could be that they knew the feeling they wanted to convey, and kept trying to get and stay there, whether the moment warranted it or not.
Which is possibly why it strikes me as so “off” most of the time. The aggression is there, but it seems forced. In many a conversation, a question is never just received as a question, it’s an accusation. A statement, a condemnation. Not everything has to be so heavy. Not every romantic or lustful interest is a love to be fought over.
But maybe the goal here was to put a bunch of unhappy young people on display, and watch them continue to be unhappy, with only slight variations or realizations. That’s arguably more realistic. Do any of the characters learn anything, or grow? That’s arguable too, because I feel like the entire film is about a bunch of people angrily treading water, dreaming that the answers to their problems can be solved elsewhere, while they continue to stick to the status quo. In that way, for at least three of the characters, Haley represented some ideal change in their lives that would make everything better when, probably, it’d be a temporary reprieve at best. Or the reality wouldn’t match the romantic notion behind it (see: Mathieu).
Still, in the end, I can’t say that I enjoyed The Haley Project. I do think, personal enjoyment aside, that the film was editorially strong. Regardless of whether I liked anyone, the film is cut together well, and it naturally reveals answers to questions that I had early on, as I tried to find my bearings in the narrative. It also looks and sounds good, so I can’t slight the film for a lack of filmmaking skill. It’s a strong showing technically, it just wasn’t for me in any other realm.
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