Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"Overall the film is competent, witty, intelligent."

Loners. The proposition set up in the opening scenes of the film is simple: the US government, desperate to put an end to the epidemic of violent shootings, diagnoses the central cause as the existence of 'loners' - people who disdain the company of others. Their response: the 'loner programme', which identifies all loners according to the amount of social contact they engage in, and thereafter condemns them to a life of surveillance and ostracism, wearing a headband and forced to attend group therapy sessions where they will learn to socialise.

Not surprisingly, the entire programme is an utter failure, with shootings up by a factor of six but, as one of the geniuses behind the programme explains to his assistant, “solid facts are only going to confuse people.”

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What follows is dystopian satire, if not quite in the style of Brazil, at least a fully paid up member of the genre: a state apparatus at one and the same time so overweening, so sure of its own righteousness, that it can neither permit any dissent nor perceive how ludicrous it is being. Some might consider this to be no different from how the world today works. Substitute any non-normative behaviour or group membership as stand-in for loner and this would cease to be satire, become instead outright tragedy. I could not possibly say.

The narrative evolves through a number of different strands. The central focus is on a group of six – or it is seven - loners forced to attend a lone-anon meeting, including Lincoln (Brian Letscher), Tanner (Tyson Turrou) and Senise (Melissa Paladino) where they are subject to a therapy master-minded by the egregiously gregarious group co-ordinator, Mike (Keith Stevenson).

But behind the scenes, Agent DelGado (Michael Monks) has plans for the group: a fiendish plot to use their loneliness as means to set them up and advance his career. And behind the behind the scenes is the mysterious Tessman (Stephen Tobolowsky). And behind Tessman there is....(but that would be telling!)

Following a slightly ragged start, which appears at times to be little more than a succession of skits designed to expose the ridiculousness of those seeking to impose their particular form of normality on the rest of us, the film settles down in the second half to something with a clearer narrative arc, a challenge, and a certain element of whodunnit mystery to it.

Who are the good guys, who the bad are no longer just existential questions about those behind the government scheme, but about who is on whose side within the group.

As someone who is not a fan of the “comedy of embarrassment,” I found that made the second half far more interesting, far more capable of holding my attention than the first. Indeed, there were moments early on in the film when the sheer stupidity of what was being depicted was disincentive to continue with the movie.

That cuts both ways. For those who share such sentiments, the message is: stay with it, it gets better. And for those who enjoy comic excess and ridiculousness, this works all the way through anyway.

Overall the film is competent, witty, intelligent. It asks questions not just about the larger politics unleashed in the public sphere lately, but also about relations between individuals, what it means to be normal, what right we have to be different.

An entertaining 90 (well, 88) minutes.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2019
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A group of introverts forced to socialise after the government declares a War of Loneliness must join together to fight for the right to be alone.

Director: Eryc Tramonn

Writer: Neil McGowan

Starring: Brian Letscher, Tyson Turrou, David Christian Welborn, Melissa Paladino

Year: 2019

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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