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The Independent Critic

Mandy Moody, Chris Gouchoe
Chris King
13 Mins.

 Award-winning "Birthday" Screens at Indy Film Fest 
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Birthday, a 13-minute short film from writer/director Chris King, is a deeply moving and inspiring film about a severely wounded marine (Chris Gouchoe) and his wife (Mandy Moody) coming home for the first time following months of surgeries and rehabilitation. Inspired by the struggles faced by many veterans who return home facing similar difficulties, Birthday is a relentlessly honest yet hopeful short film that celebrates marital unity and the power of the human spirit.

The film is screening this week as part of American Spectrum at the Indy Film Fest being held through this weekend at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I must confess that while I enjoyed American Spectrum's award-winning short Mine, Birthday absolutely mesmerized me for every single one of its 13 minutes. Much of that, of course, is due to the two magnificent performances of Mandy Moody and Chris Gouchoe.

King plays it wisely by giving us a few moments to bond with Moody and Gouchoe early in the film courtesy of their long-distance webcam visits that are infused with a playful tenderness and love. While we have some idea of what's coming up, by the time it all arrives Moody and Gouchoe have won us over and their loss feels like our loss.

Moody is simply extraordinary here as a military wife whose picturesque life, she's a beauty and her husband's quite the hottie himself, has seemingly been stripped away as she arrives at her husband's bedside facing a new reality. Moody's performance is heartbreaking and filled with aching transparency and yet quiet devotion.

Okay, I'll admit it. She made me cry.

Chris Gouchoe is similarly remarkable, as well. In the early scenes, his love for his wife is obvious and his anxieties and fears come to life in his body language even as he perseveres and pushes himself to recover. While trauma can tear people apart, Moody and Gouchoe are remarkably convincing as a young couple who seem to discover a new kind of beauty and a strength previously not revealed. They are simply tremendous here. 

Not surprisingly, Birthday has proven to be wildly popular on the film festival circuit with over 25 festival appearances and prizes at Sedona International Film Festival, Siouxland Film Festival, VisionFest, G.I. Film Festival and others. The lensing by Ryan Black and Jason Knight is intense and intimate and raw and marvelous. As a paraplegic/amputee myself, I was impressed with the entire team's ability to approach the concept of disability from an intelligent and empowering perspective even if I secretly wished a disabled actor had been used.

Birthday screens one more time at Indy Film Fest - on July 21st at 12:45pm in DeBoest Lecture Hall. It's a festival highlight and you should definitely catch it.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic