Unremarkable in any one specific aspect but comes together very well as a whole
"It was already December when August decided to move to the boat" are the first English words at the start of this film and they are delivered by a narrator who tells the story of a young man who lives above Mr Ling's fish shop in New York who has his eyes opened when he takes a job maintaining a boat. At first glance the film looks like it will be an annoying "first world problems" type film where someone searches for themselves in an existence which is more privileged than the majority of the globe and, in a way, it sort of is this, but to call it out as such is to be unfair.
Although essentially this is August's story in a nutshell, it is the telling of the story that makes it. Led by a narrator we are given a simple but well structured tale which is driven by the phrasing and tone of the narration. This is really the heart of the film for me and it is such a key part that the other strong factors are centered around this. The use of Jim Handley as narrator is great – I have no idea who he is and his resume here is empty, but his voice is assured, secure, familiar and safe – it is hard not to be drawn into it. It reminds me very much of Ricky Jay's narration at the start of Magnolia as the voice has the same effect. The use of music supports the voice and although it is a little "cutesy", it is saved by how well it comes together with the whole.
Of course the dialogue is important and this is also mostly a solid literary style with good tone, pacing and choice of words and phrasing. The choice of shots and the gentle length of them also fits with this and ultimately what you have is a short film that is unremarkable for any one aspect but yet comes together really well, with the whole being more than just the sum of its parts. It isn't amazing but it is surprising just how effective and satisfying it is.
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