HE is a struggling actor. Struggling by choice. SHE lives on top of his head. That is to say the apartment right above him. They’re good friends. He loves her. She has no idea. Tonight, he’s going to tell her.
Nik Rogen creates an a-typical short film from a typical premise by writing a script that focuses on the listlessness of the main character (who Rogen also plays), as opposed to the potential relationship that he will try to will into existence. While some laughs are to be had by watching the day-to-day life of a struggling actor who may have already peaked after landing a TV commercial a while ago, Rogen’s writing and Alex Palmer’s direction keep the main body of the story focused on the question of whether or not Rogen’s character is actually good enough for the object of his affection.
It is an unusual tack for a romantic story to have an unworthy suitor, as the normal expectation would be to simply root for the main character to get the girl. Fortunately, ‘On Top of Me’ transcends its potential by taking the time to be a character study as well as a love story. Rogen’s protagonist is clearly not the most together guy in the world. He lives in an apartment paid for by his mother (without the knowledge of his father) and clearly has very few if any skills to fall back on. His narration also reveals to the audience how much denial he lives in about where his life is going. This makes his desire to win the heart of his friend, who lives in the apartment above him, at times almost seem like a distraction from his obvious failings.
This is not to say that Rogen’s protagonist can’t be sympathised with. When we flash back to the beginning of his friendship with his would-be girlfriend (a both lovable and vulnerable Zenna Davis-Jones), we see someone who has always been faithful and supportive through let downs and break ups. He is a good guy but firmly in the friend zone. And here is one of the more notable areas where ‘On Top of Me’ differs from a typical romantic story. Rather than assuming that he should get out of the friend zone and declare his feelings, we find ourselves wondering if this is where he would best serve the girl he loves.
In finding a director who would take on a romantic drama such as this, Rogen does well to team up with Alex Palmer, who tackles the subversive script with a focus on Rogen’s character and his journey to shaking off the denial that is holding back his life. While laughs are there to be had, Palmer does not allow the story to drift over into comedy. While it is often an reliable means of securing a more receptive audience, Palmer has the courage not to do a disservice to the screenplay by opting for easy laughs. This is a character-driven drama and he does not let us forget it.
That being said, Palmer is also unafraid to have a little fun with his filmmaking style and with Rogen’s protagonist. Palmer sprinkles creative flair throughout the film, from the multi-step process of preparing an elegant meal that is way too advanced for Rogen’s character, to using graphics to illustrate the truth behind his lack of independence. Never losing sight of the essence of the story allows Palmer to move between the comedic and the dramatic seamlessly and as a result, we get a film of genuine emotional stakes that does not think twice about subverting your expectations.
Studio: Magyon, Inc.
Duration: 19 mins
Suitability: Mature – Strong language and sexual references
Director: Alex Palmer
Writer: Nik Rogan