The 2016 Oscar Winning short, The Stutterer, follows main character Greenwood, a stuttering typographer, who navigates his life struggling with the anxieties brought on from both his stutter and his crush on his Internet friend, Ellie. This overt plot line at first appears to be the only plot line, yet this explanation fails to account for several aspects of the film that revolve around Greenwood's disability. Every aspect of a film is intentionally placed by the director and the love story narrative doesn't seem to cover every aspect. Therefore, this film attempts to use a "boy-meets-girl" archetype to attain a deeper social commentary on the realities of living with a disability, and while it is successful in some aspects, the final product ultimately falls short of its goal.
This film's accuracy depicts a society that on the outside appears to be accessible to and understanding of individuals with disabilities, but in reality are methods that further ostracize those individuals from assimilating into an "able bodied" society. The conflict between Greenwood and his billing company aptly recognizes the discrepancy in what society states versus their actions. Throughout the film Greenwood struggles to settle a problem with his billing while Facebook messaging Ellie as a mechanical voice states, "Your call is important to us" a total of six times throughout the film. Their notion of his so-called importance is juxtaposed with the reality that even when his father calls on behalf of him, the company is not helpful. A key element into my initial suspicion of a bigger social commentary was the father himself. I found him odd to be included in a love story, especially because he doesn't particularly arc except to demonstrate his frustration on behalf of his son compared to his lack of frustration with his son.
The thread of sign language throughout the film manages to move the plot along in interesting ways, but it also alludes to a social view on what is seen as acceptable disabilities. Greenwoods decision to use sign language to navigate his town is one that is based in the highly stigmatized nature of stuttering compared to deafness. The first disability can generate irritation or even fear while deafness often generates pity as seen in the film more than once. While neither of these emotions are ideal, one is arguably better than the other.
The arc of many of the characters also revolves around Greenwood's disability. Greenwood himself arcs after his attempt to use sign language and while he has temporary relief from the fear of attempting to speak and stuttering, it gives him no satisfaction because it doesn't really change anything about him or his circumstances. He takes his frustration towards not being able to change society and uses it to motivate himself to face other aspects of his life that he is in control of.
This film also attempts to call attention to preconceived notions society has about those who stutter; the voice over dialogue channeling Greenwood's head throughout the entire film is being used to disprove the notion that individuals with a stutter are simply not smart enough to talk. Greenwood's brief fight with a stranger is another allusion to how society considers those with a disability. Despite showing his strength in the previous scene, getting over some of anxieties about messaging Ellie, he is still seen to those around him as weaker than an "able-bodied" individual.
Despite these positive characteristics, the film does fall short of its goal in certain aspects. This is director Benjamin Cleary's first film and while this film is impressive for a first attempt, he does fall short on the film's resolution. One of the problems with the resolution is that the foreshadowing executed throughout the film gives the ending away. There are many instances in which interaction between Greenwood and Ellie as well as Greenwood and society correlate to the ending scene.
Another problem I have with the resolution is that it caused the social commentary that is woven throughout the entire film to be somewhat anti-climatic and irrelevant. The cliché storyline is so overt that it completely overshadows every other aspect of the film and creates a complacency that prevents engaging in the film for a closer look at is more subliminal message. However there is also fault in the attempts at social commentary as well. Cleary aptly identifies the society views and actions towards a stuttering disability, yet he fails to make good on the "commentary" portion of social commentary. The film ends up having social reporting instead of a deep commentary about the problem with societal views and actions. The film's take away almost being like a PSA, something that alerts one to something but doesn't go out of its way to change it.
Overall the film is unfortunately underwhelming because the love story plot is simply too cliché and overt to really appreciate the film's attempt at a more subliminal message. The overt plot line of "boy-meets-girl" outshines any of the covert social commentary made and this is done largely to its predictably included by the poor foreshadowing. The film raises the awareness to a prevalent occurrence in society, yet I wish it would have lead to a stronger conclusion than "love conquers all" which I feel was far too sappy for such a serious issue. Despite my misgivings, the film is sweet and a fun feel-good film and while I wish the ending would have been both different and more surprising, I would give this film a rating as 7 out of 10 frustrating phone calls to billing companies.
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