Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't?
Have you ever felt such a deep desire for connection, even a semblance of connection, that you would gladly risk your heart or your mind or even your very values on the offbeat chance you might find it?
If you have, "Uptown" is about you. You will do more than watch "Uptown," you will breathe it in. You won't just be a witness to "Uptown," but you will experience it.
The debut feature film from actor/director Brian Ackley, "Uptown" is the second film in the One Way or Another "Naked Series."
Naked is, in fact, the perfect word for "Uptown," the story of a man, Ben (Chris Riquinha), and a woman, Isabel (Meissa Hampton), and the ways in which they dance, flirt, dive and tiptoe in the often muddy waters of human connection.
The two meet online and, somewhat guardedly, decide to take their online friendship to the next level and meet in person. From this meeting, truths will be revealed and their emotional nakedness revealed.
With such a film, it could be tempting for a filmmaker to plunge headfirst into the depths of human emotion.
Wisely, Brian Ackley avoids this potential temptation.
Instead, "Uptown" feels a tad like the stellar "A Girl in the Cafe," a film that approached similar subject matter with intelligence, gentleness, grace and simplicity.
Indeed, it is with intelligence, gentleness, grace and simplicity that "Uptown" explores the very real worlds of these two individuals.
Isabel is a young woman, having been married for one year to a man she's been with for five years, who is living a lonely, seemingly passionless existence.
Ben, on the other hand, is a lost soul attempting to journey his way through the labyrinth of friendship or love or whatever this relationship may be.
Rather than explode with emotions and manufactured drama, "Uptown" exists squarely in the awkward state of unknowing in which we so often find ourselves in such uncertain relationships.
A patient director, it almost seems at times that Ackley is sitting behind camera waiting on Hampton and Riquinha to reveal themselves and to allow the scenes to unfold. "Uptown" is like a gradually opening cocoon, gradually opening and spreading its wings to reveal the heartfelt and authentic beings for who they really are.
This, of course, would not work without similarly intelligent and patient performances from the film's leads. Perhaps at least partially owing to the fact that the two co-stars also co-wrote the script, both Riquinha and Hampton are stellar as the lost and lonely souls that they portray.
Riquinha blends vulnerability and masculinity quite nicely, revealing a character who learns that he's falling deeper for his friend than he knows his should and, yet, doing what we all do and surrendering himself to it. Watching Riquinha tiptoe in, step out, jump back in and then surrender himself to the journey is simply breathtaking. One scene, in particular, in which Riquinha sits seemingly alone on a bus preparing to send a simple text message is awesome in its simplicity.
Likewise, Hampton is a revelation as a young woman seemingly torn between feeling feelings she longs for and yet constantly remaining aware of the bigger picture. At times, Hampton's performance is reminiscent of Marketa Irglova in "Once." Isabel is innocent, yet not so innocent, and Hampton captures the fullness of Isabel quite beautifully.
Tech credits are generally solid across the board, most notably Ackley's camera work and the original music of Dayva Segal, which complement perfectly the film's scenes throughout its modest 75-minute running time. On occasion, scenes seemed to linger a touch too long while a couple of the film's transition scenes felt a tad unnecessary and distracted from the overall naturalness of the film.
Minor tech quibbles aside, "Uptown" is a wonderful first effort from filmmaker Brian Ackley with a simple yet intelligent storyline, rich and authentic dialogue, solid character development and strong performances across the board.
Currently playing on the festival circuit, "Uptown" is a film you should catch if it comes to a theatre near you. For more information on the film, visit the One Way or Another website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic