Abigail watches from a distance as the man disrobes. A modestly-handsome Asian man, he has no name, and freely abandons his towel to dowse himself in a tub in the middle of an abandoned studio space. She flinches, waiting for the right moment to seize the towel, to trap him within his own nudity. He’ll be vulnerable, she believes, and they’ll make love. She’s never found love in this city, and now this stranger with bare skin with take her as her own, and she’ll feel valuable for once in a life of solitude.
This is the setup for experimental drama “Abigail Harm,” which provides a showcase for underlooked veteran of stage and screen Amanda Plummer. Her Abigail is only the latest in a long line of protagonists who can never find something and instead opt to take it. She doesn’t seem fulfilled, but is otherwise content filling her days as a reader for the blind, providing the eyes for those without them. Intimacy is a foreign concept to her; she struggles through describing pornographic material to one client (Burt Young) not because she’s turned off, but because the allure of physical attraction eludes her.
One such elderly client (Will Patton) takes enough of a shine to her that he makes her a promise; he’s going to tell her where to find a man. He speaks of a memory that sounds abstract and unreliable, talking about a stolen towel near a bathtub leading to a dalliance that was purely physical, and completely fulfilling on a spiritual level. It doesn’t seem that Abigail could find that exact specific setting, but when she does, it feels so far removed from the film’s New York City setting that it might as well be on Mars.
The man (Tetsuo Kuramochi) shrinks and surrenders to her offering of a towel, but amusingly, he doesn’t immediately sexually pursue her. Instead, he shows his thankfulness by following her home on account of her pet-like urgings, as if he is indebted. With very few words of English in his skill set, the two of them begin a flirtation based on both of their obvious needs. As director Lee Isaac Chung plays with montage and dream logic storytelling, it’s hard to see who is falling for whom, and why. If anything, it’s almost like a jousting match, one side daring the other to blink. The word “love” is tossed around: it feels like it emerges from equal parts politeness, and desperate longing.
Plummer adds another comfortably unreliable character to her gallery, turning Abigail into an older woman with a schoolboy crush. She ultimately just wants to be needed, which explains her occupation, and the film leaves it an open-ended question as to whether the meeting of her needs is an idea of humanism or simply the longing of just another New York life. “Abigail Harm,” which is narrated by Patton (unclear if it’s in character or not) is small enough to fit on a New York stage, and bringing it to the screen doesn’t give the story any more room to expand. But Plummer’s depressingly ordinary loneliness provides the crux of the picture, one that looks at how anyone can seek, and find, a substitute for love. [B+]